Category Archives: Uncategorised

Hedgehogs in your garden

Have you seen any hedgehogs in your garden this summer?

Over the summer months, hedgehogs will have been active from March when they first emerged from hibernation. Now, from August to September, is typically when second litters of hoglets are born. Compared with the litters born earlier in the summer, it is often more of a struggle for these late-born hedgehogs to build up their fat reserves enough before hibernation – their natural diets of insects, slugs and worms begins to diminish.

It’s a good idea to put out food and water for hedgehogs all summer long, but often particularly important during these last summer months when other food sources are harder to come by.

You’re most likely to spot hedgehogs at dusk, whilst it’s not daylight, but there is just enough light to be able to see. The hedgehog in the picture above appeared just as the light was starting to fade, out in search of sustenance!

If you see a hedgehog that looks like it needs help, for example if it is injured or out during the day and not moving, it’s a good idea to contact British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

What can I feed the hedgehogs in my garden?

Cat biscuits, meat-based cat or dog food, and specialist hedgehog food are all great to leave out for hedgehogs. Make sure to also leave out a shallow bowl of clean water so the hedgehogs can stay hydrated in the warm weather.

Avoid leaving out milk, which hedgehogs are intolerant to; bread, which is of little nutritional value for hedgehogs; and mealworms, which can be harmful if eaten in large quantities.

Let us know if you’ve seen any hedgehogs in your garden! If you manage to take any pictures, we’d love to see them too. Email enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk to get in touch.

Action for Insects

The Wildlife Trusts have recently published a new report ‘Reversing the decline of insects’, showing how we can each contribute to helping the insect population.

Evidence from around the world has shown that many insect populations are declining, and we are facing the risk of species extinctions. It’s widely known that insects are depended on by much of life on Earth: they play a vital role in pollination of wildflowers and crops, they act as food sources for other animals, many plants depend on them for seed dispersal, they are important in nutrient cycling, and they can often get rid of pests.

Where would we be without insects?! It is essential that their populations are restored.

Insects need a ‘recovery network’. They need more good quality, linked-up, pesticide-free habitats. The Wildlife Trusts have called on the Government to help reverse the decline of insects by taking actions such as reducing pesticide usage, encouraging insect-friendly farming techniques and working towards this recovery network.

Common blue butterfly, photo from Stephen Powell

There are a few simple actions you can take to helping reverse insect decline:

  • Stop using pesticides
  • Create insect-friendly habitats in your garden, such as ponds, long grassy areas and areas of nectar-rich flowers
  • Reduce your frequency of lawn mowing to create more food and shelter for insects
  • Build a ‘bug hotel’, or simply leave a small pile of rocks or logs to create habitats
  • Try to shop more consciously, maybe by buying local food that isn’t grown using pesticides, or choosing environmentally-friendly cleaning products.

Click here to receive a copy of an Action for Insects Guide from the Wildlife Trusts, with more information and guidance about how you can help insects at home.

Wildlife you didn’t know was interesting

The world is full of under-appreciated wildlife. Here are four species that, despite their mundane reputation, have fascinating characteristics.

Houseflies

House fly on a plum. Image credit: Jon Dunkelman via WildNet2 -WildNet

Houseflies… yuck, no thanks! Wait – actually, the common housefly has incredible capabilities.

Like most insects, they can walk upside down thanks to pulvilli, pad-like structures covered in tiny hairs on the bottoms of their feet. The importance of their feet doesn’t stop there, however, as houseflies also taste with their feet. Chemoreceptors, organs which detect taste, are located on the lower legs, allowing the fly to taste as they walk over food materials. You might have seen flies rubbing their legs together – this is them cleaning their legs to ‘reset’ the chemoreceptors before a new meal.

Their intricate compound eyes allow houseflies to see in an almost 360° field of view, allowing them to watch out for predators whilst flying. They can process images seven times faster than humans, which is why flies can always get away so fast when someone tries to swat them. Studies have shown that male houseflies’ eyes also contain a ‘love spot’, a region important in detecting female flies to mate with.

Houseflies are adapted to an exclusively liquid diet. Their mouthparts are modified to form a proboscis which acts as a straw with a sponge on the end to efficiently suck up liquids.

We should be jealous, really. However, they can spread some pretty harmful disease-causing bacteria, so make sure they don’t land on your food!

Snails

Image credit: Jon Hawkins via WildNet

Perhaps interesting to some, but to many snails are another commonly overlooked garden-dweller.

Snails have ‘teeth’. Not the type of teeth we have, though. Their radula, an internal feeding organ which acts like a tongue, has thousands of tiny ‘teeth’ arranged like a conveyor belt along its surface. In different species of snail, these teeth are adapted for different diets. The teeth are also constantly replaced as they are worn down, ensuring snails can always feed effectively.

Most snails are hermaphroditic, meaning they can mate with themselves if needs be. From an evolutionary point of view, this gives species a better shot at continuing the family line if no mates are available.

Snails also grow their own homes. Well… their shells. Shells are made of calcium carbonate, a strong substance which gives snails the protection they need. Sclerites are the plates making up the shell, and are secreted by the snail itself.

Grass

Image credit: Emily Reilly

If you have a garden with a lawn, you might value grass for its aesthetic properties. Or maybe you appreciate its softness during a picnic in the park. Or its smoothness on golf courses. But did you know that across the world, there are 11,400 different types of grass?

All grasses belong to the Poaceae family, which is one of the most species-rich families in the world, and the 4th largest flowering plant family.

Grasses leaves are arranged in special patterns to optimise photosynthesis. Optimal photosynthesis requires maximum light capture, so leaves tend to be spread out to avoid being shaded by each other.

Most grasses can tolerate grazing, or mowing in the case of lawns. This is because their apical meristems, the part from which shoots and leaves grow from, is at or below ground level. New growth can always continue if grasses are cut – something which isn’t true for many other plants.

Finally, the Poaceae family provides around 80% of global food supply, containing over 1/3 of the most important food crops such as rice, wheat and maize. However, typical lawn grass has undergone so much artificial selection and forced evolution that it is unrecognisable from its food crop relatives!

Dandelions

Image credit: Eddie Asbery

Are dandelions a weed? They grow prolifically, and usually exactly where you don’t want them if you are a gardener. However, they boast unique and useful properties that might make you reconsider their reputation.

The name ‘dandelions’ is derived from the French “dent de lion”, meaning “lion’s tooth”, like the tooth-like serrations on their leaves. Their bright yellow flower heads are actually formed from many many tiny individual flowers, called florets.

Every part of a dandelion plant has a use to humans, whether that be for food, medicinal properties, or dyes. Dandelions are thought by many to have possible healing properties, although their effectiveness is debated.

Dandelions can make clones of themselves without the need for fertilisation. This is in fact a feature shared by a number of other plant species, but is the reason why their growth seems so prolific.

They also adopt the widely-used technique of nyctinasty, involving the closing of petals at night. Dandelions ‘go to sleep’ at night as a response to an ‘internal clock’. Photoreceptors, structures which detect light, have the important job of ensuring the the internal clock is set in time with levels of light in the environment.

Finally, dandelions are important flowers for pollinators such as bees. They have a long flowering season, so are depended on for consistent nectar production. Letting dandelions grow is an easy and effective way to make your garden more environmentally friendly.

Nature Spots 3.0

After a spell of heavy rain in the Tame Valley Wetlands, we have welcomed back the glorious sunshine this week. Here are some lovely wildlife pictures from over the last few days.

With fewer people around at Hams Hall Environmental Centre and less opportunity for maintenance of the walled garden, the plants are thriving. There is an abundance of nettles, of course (which are inconvenient for people but do act as an important habitat and food source for insects such as butterflies), but also there are many beautiful wildflowers such as this field poppy and a group of orchids.

Field poppy at Hams Hall Environmental Centre
Early purple orchids at Hams Hall Environmental Centre

We have also been sent images of wildflowers from around the Tame Valley wetlands, such as this Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

Pyramidal orchid spotted in Nether Whitacre, submitted by Debra Starkey

This time of year is peak season for caterpillars, often spotted munching away on leaves or trying to stay hidden from predators. Here is a peacock butterfly caterpillar (Aglais io) spotted at Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve, and a fantastic image of a Mullein moth caterpillar (Cucullia verbasci) resting on a buddleia.

Peacock butterfly caterpillar
Mullein moth caterpillar submitted by Stephen Powell

Finally, the butterflies have again made beautiful photos this week. Here is a comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) – you can see how its wings, with their scalloped edges and cryptic colouring, give the butterfly strong camouflage – especially useful when hibernating in piles of leaves during the winter months.

Comma butterfly submitted by Debra Starkey

Otters on the River Blythe

Over the past few weeks, there have been numerous sightings of otters, which is great news and usually an indicator of a river having fairly clean water and enough good-quality habitats.

Otters are not often seen by people as they are largely nocturnal. The most common indicators of an otter population are tracks or spraints (droppings). Otters often leave their spraints in conspicuous places along their territory, as a warning for other intruding populations to stay away.

Despite their elusive nature, Nick Martin, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Wetland Project Officer, has managed to record some fantastic footage of otters on the River Blythe.

In the video below you first see a mink cross the river. Mink are an invasive species and are a considerable threat to UK native species such as the water vole. Towards the end of the video however, three otters come swimming up the river. This group is likely a mother and two large cubs.

Video credit: Nick Martin

Otters communicate with whistles and twittering sounds, often heard at night when they are active and their surroundings are quiet. Click on the video below to hear an otter calling.

Video credit: Nick Martin

This video shows another otter on the Blythe, possibly the father of cubs. The male otter parent is known to play no part in rearing the cubs, leaving that to the mother.

Video credit: Nick Martin

And finally, here is a quick clip of an otter swimming along the river.

Video credit: Nick Martin

Education at Hams Hall Environmental Centre: Session Plans

Click on the links below to download copies of lesson plans for each education session at Hams Hall Environmental Centre.

Please contact enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk if you have any queries or would like to book a school visit.

Re-profiling the River Cole

The re-profiling of the River Cole, located upstream of the River Tame in North Solihull, is an important project aiming to enhance the biodiversity and aesthetics of the river. Working alongside Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and the Environment Agency, with support from our National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), the project will make the River Cole better for both wildlife and people visiting the area.

Initial assessment of the River Cole concluded that it was an unsuitable environment for wildlife, because of its poor water quality and low variety of different habitats available for a diverse range of species to thrive. Therefore, project planning commenced to decide what improvements could be made to the worst areas of the river.

The poor quality of the water was found to be because of urban pollution further up the river, such as regular use of overflows by sewerage systems and runoff from roads or agricultural land. Work by Severn Trent will make sewerage systems more efficient, find alternative drainage options from roads, build buffers along the river banks and promote use of more environmentally-friendly farming methods. This will mean the water in the River Cole can be made cleaner so it provides a safer environment for the development of fish populations. Moreover, placing large hay bales along the edges of the river will help to catch any sediment; this clever technique ensures that sediments do not contaminate the river.

The habitat quality and diversity of the River Cole was another important area identified for improvement.

Because of human activity and the high energy water flow which had gradually eroded the river banks, the structure of the River Cole had been changed over time so that it became straightened and unvaried. This had a negative impact on the diversity and richness of different wildlife species inhabiting the river. It also meant that the river was unable to accommodate large populations of wildlife.

Work to improve the quality and variety of habitats in the river involved creating more islands and meanders (bends in the river course), planting more trees and shrubs along the river banks, and introducing gravel to the river bed. Adding these kinds of features improved the environmental diversity and allowed a greater variety of plants and animals to thrive in the area, especially different fish species. It also improves the visual aesthetics of the river, making it a more enjoyable place for people to visit.

Work on the River Cole project began on Monday 11th February 2019 and was complete by the end of the week. The re-profiling involved working mainly within a 300m section of the river. By improving this space, with a focus on the quality of the water and surrounding habitats, the project will yield many benefits in terms of the River Cole’s natural diversity and public appeal.

Hedgerow planting

As part of ‘Blythe Alive’, a project to improve the River Blythe SSSI and its environment, we are planting native riparian trees and hedgerows at various sites near to the River Blythe.

One of the benefits of hedgerows is their importance in acting as habitats for small animals such as birds and invertebrates. Hedges provide food and shelter for animals, and also act as corridors for animals to move along, improving connectivity between habitats.

Hedgerows are also important for preventing flooding. Hedgerows provide weather barriers and contribute to natural flood management by intercepting rainfall and slowing runoff from the land.

When planting close to a river, as we are doing for our Blythe Alive project, the flood management aspect of hedgerow gapping-up has been particularly important. The improved hedgerows will help to absorb rainfall and therefore limit the amount of water running into the river. They will also intercept sediment and pollutants from land run-off which would otherwise contaminate the river. This lowers risks of flooding, loss of nutrients from the land, and pollution of the river.

Hawkswell Farm

We have planted 1000 hedgerow plants and Black Poplars at Hawkswell Farm. This planting contributes to gapping-up the existing hedgerows, which is necessary for maintaining their longevity and structure.

Volunteers planting trees at Hawkswell Farm

This work was carried out with the help of our dedicated volunteers, and plays an important part in our project to improve the health status of the River Blythe and the quality of its surrounding ecosystem.

Tree planting – filling the gaps

Tame Valley Wetlands staff and volunteers recently braved the soggy conditions underfoot to plant some native hedgerow trees in fields adjacent to the River Blythe. Hazel, hawthorn, blackthorn, dog-rose, wild cherry and field maple were among the species used to fill in gaps in existing hedgerows. Species-rich hedgerows have multiple benefits for wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole by serving as a habitat for a number of organisms and movement corridors for wildlife. They also provide shelter, natural connectivity in the landscape, and reduce soil erosion by preventing excessive run off. The hedgerow planting is another part of our larger Water Environment Grant funded project focusing on improving the ecological status of the Blythe SSSI and surrounding land. Local landowner support has been critical to the success of this project and we certainly benefit from the strong relationships we have with our local farmers and project partners.

Posted by Tame Valley Wetlands on Thursday, 28 November 2019

Packington Farm

With the help of a team of volunteers from Severn Trent Water, we planted around 2000 hedgerow plants at Packington Estate to create a new hedgerow for the field.

Volunteers planting hedgerows at Packington Estate

The new hedgerow will provide more habitats and more protection against flooding for the field.

Watch the video below to see just how many plants were planted to create this hedgerow!

Hedgerow planting!

The results of a day's hedgerow planting with help from Severn Trent Water – around 2000 whips planted to create a new hedgerow!

Posted by Tame Valley Wetlands on Friday, 13 March 2020

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Tame Valley Wetlands team!

Here is a picture from our Christmas celebration with our volunteers, where we enjoyed a bonfire and jacket potatoes.

Thank you to our volunteers, project partners and staff who have helped to deliver work this year. We will be continuing with our two current projects, Blythe Alive and Love Your River Cole, in the New Year, as well as planning for new projects in the future.

If you are interested in volunteering for us, taking part in practical conservation work across the Tame Valley Wetlands, please contact enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk or phone 01675470917.

If you missed our 2019 newsletter, you can read it here: https://mailchi.mp/d5857e26756f/tame-valley-wetlands-in-2019. You may wish to sign up to our mailing list to keep updated with our newsletters and project updates! Remember, we also post regular updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Planting at Southfields Farm

In October 2019, the Tame Valley Wetlands team and TameForce volunteers planted plug plants at Southfields Farm as part of our work to help restore and improve the River Blythe SSSI.

Plug plants in their trays before planting
Plug plants in their trays before being planted

Plug plants are small-sized seedlings, grown in trays, which can then easily be planted into prepared soil. We are using species such as Meadowsweet, Reed Sweet Grass and Marsh Marigold.

Planting native plant species along the banks of the River Blythe will provide considerable benefits to the health status of the river. Firstly, the inclusion of a range of native species will help improve the biodiversity and species composition of the environment. This is important for the robustness ecosystem surrounding the river, making it more resilient to change and fluctuations. Additionally, the plug plants will help to stabilise the river banks and reduce sediment run-off, which will aid in enhancing the water quality in the river.

We have had fantastic contributions to this work from local and corporate volunteer groups.

After some initial doubts regarding the suitability of the weather conditions (considering the amount of rain we had in previous weeks!) our hard working TameForce volunteers braved the elements and aided in planting a huge number of plants at Southfields Farm.

Volunteers planting at Southfields Farm

Luckily, the rain managed to hold off for our two final planting days at the end of October. During these days, we had volunteers attend to help us with our work, as well as staff from Jaguar Land Rover. Morale was kept high by supplies of tea, coffee and biscuits, and we successfully reached our target of planting 14,000 plants in total.

Volunteers planting at Southfields Farm

Southfields Farm – 8 months on

8 months later, in June 2020, efforts have been rewarded with an abundance of wildflowers and grasses growing in the fields.

Click through the slide show below to see the results!

Thank you to all who helped us to complete this work – we really could not have done it without you!