Saving threatened habitats worldwide

I have done my bit and made a Great Garden Give donation for my garden

15 July, 2014 - 10:11 -- John Burton
John Burton in Dry Chaco, Paraguay

By connecting our gardens with saving rainforest and other habitats, World Land Trust’s Great Garden Give encourages people to reflect on the connections between their gardens, nature reserves, habitat management and the preservation of wilderness. And in the great scheme of things, they are all equally important for conservation.

Close to where I live is RSPB’s Minsmere Reserve. Arguably this is more intensively managed (ie gardened) than much of the four acres I look after!

One of the attractions when we moved to the house we live in was a rookery with about a dozen nests, an acre of so of spinney, and just under three acres of what had been grassland. Plus various bits of what had been chicken runs, allotment and garden. Turning all this into a garden is an ongoing and often losing battle.

A small orchard, flower beds, soft fruits, vegetable patches have all been created, while the meadows which were completely overgrown with thistles, dock and nettles, have now been largely turned back in to short grass fields, and bee orchids have returned in one patch.

All this creates a pretty good wildlife habitat. The rookery flourishes, and at last count 28 jackdaws were stealing food from the chicken’s run. I have yet to put up the waiting nest boxes for jackdaws, but will do so before next breeding season.

Meanwhile the half dozen nest boxes for small birds have all been occupied and it’s been a bumper season for Blue Tits and Great Tits.

I left a shed door open, and our greatest joy this summer has been to find swallows have nested for the first time in more than five years. And our house martin population has doubled from one to two nests, and both are now rearing a second brood.

Pied Wagtails and Mistle Thrush feed on the short grass where the alpacas, sheep and llama keep it grazed. And because we are exceptionally careful about the use of pesticides, dung flies flourish.

This year seems to have been a good breeding season for Green Woodpeckers, and four of the young ones are constantly foraging in the grass for ants.

Only the weather has conspired against me this year. The wonderfully warm sunny days seem to evaporate, to be replaced with rain at weekends, and of course ‘weeds’ always grow faster than the plants you want.

I have even found a nettle over seven feet tall. But the vast quantities of nettles are great for butterflies, and we have seen more butterflies this year than for many years.

And in the longer grasses, harvest mice, rarely seen, are there, and an otter often leaves footprints in the stream beds that edge our land. We are very lucky indeed, to have so much wildlife in such a relatively small area. So I rarely feel too guilty when I see an abundance of what others would call weeds growing in the wrong places.

A garden, to many people, is a place to relax, but as Viv Burton has already written, ours is far from relaxing most of the time. And, like her, I find it easier to unwind in wild places.

I can remember sitting for an hour or two under a drunken tree in the Chaco, sketching a row of cacti, in the heat of the day (probably around 30 degrees centigrade). No vapour trails in the sky, no background noise of traffic. Just insects and birds songs. And silence.

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