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An Interview with a Wildlife Expert (part 2)

In part 1, Dad gave us a glimpse into the natural world at Dreamcatcher Cabins. From kingfishers to hummingbird hawkmoths, the diversity of the ecosystem he’s nourished is admirable to say the least. The abundance of wildlife makes a stay at the cabins that little bit more special. 

However, almost all of the species mentioned in the first instalment of the interview are threatened, declining, or on the brink of extinction. 

In the second half of our conversation, I tried to gain a better understanding of why that is, what we can all do to help, and how we can learn more about the animals we share the land with. 

What challenges do our local wildlife face? 

“Lots unfortunately. I used to see flocks of two-to-three hundred skylarks in Gartmore, but now I only see one in a field near Killearn. It’s a similar story for lapwings. Both of these birds are ground-nesting, and like long grass to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, when the farmers cut the grass to make silage, the nests are destroyed. Farmers are now able to do this multiple times a year  because of fertilisers, so the birds don’t stand a chance. It’s a similar story with pheasants, oystercatchers and more.” 

Both lapwings and skylarks are on the RSPB’s “red alert” list, meaning we’re at risk of losing them. Their numbers have declined by 40%(lapwings) and 70%(skylarks)  since the 1960’s, and are continuing to do so. Adjusting farming techniques, such as leaving them an area to raise their young has been found to be effective in slowing this reduction in numbers. 

“We also have issues with roads killing so many animals. We often see hedgehogs, toads, deer, birds, bats and insects that have been killed by cars.” 

What do we do at Dreamcatchers to help them overcome these challenges?

“We feed all of them. We have specific feeders for each species to make sure they get what they need. We also have houses all over the garden and throughout the woods to give them somewhere cosy to live. We have a water source for them – the pond in the garden. We also never use insecticides or chemicals, and only plant native plants that both create a healthy natural environment and provide the animals with food.”

Food, water and shelter. It’s simple, but incredibly effective. Wildlife doesn’t need much in order to succeed. 

How can our readers help wildlife near them?

“The #1 thing you can do is to put some sort of pond in your garden. Half a whisky barrel, lined with PVC and sunk into the ground is ideal.” 

This is obviously not possible for everyone. However, if you do have the capacity to install a pond, it provides support for an incredible range of plants and animals alike. 

“Feed – not cheap rubbish. A lot of bird seed will be bulked-up by wheat and barley that the birds don’t eat. It may be a little bit more expensive, but feeds from the RSPB website are great. 

“A little log pile. At a communal garden I maintain in Glasgow, I stacked a small pile of logs and returned a few weeks later. When I went to remove them, they were already filled with grubs, beetles, slugs, snails, ants and toads. Dead wood is extremely important as a food source and a shelter for so many animals. Many insects exist as larvae for up to 95% of their lives, only transforming into dragonflies etc to breed. So to have a stack of wood in your garden left to rot is great for the less obvious but still vitally important animals.”

On a similar vein, Dad also recommends not over-tidying your garden. This is the time of year to do a big Spring-tidy, however, this should be one of the only times you do this. Later on in the year, especially autumn and winter, animals need debris such as sticks and leaves to use as shelter over the cold winter months. 

Finally, are there any resources you would recommend to readers to do some of their own research? 

“Countryfile and Springwatch are both great. Their websites are good, but I prefer watching the show as the information is packaged well and it’s easier to remain focused. When I’m surfing the web, I often find myself going down a rabbit hole that has nothing to do with what I started looking at! The app ‘birdsongid’ uses your phone’s microphone to identify birds by their song. Also a great resource.”

The wildlife is such an important aspect of the cabins, and we can all do our part to help it recover. It doesn’t take much effort, and the rewards are tenfold. 

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Dad for taking the time to share his knowledge.