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Helping Wildlife (2010)

Page updated - 03 January 2011

For further information - Suffolk Wildlife Trust on 01473 890089 or Suffolk Wildlife Trust Website

Cornard News - Most of this advice was previously published in Cornard News

Extra item

- Dec 2010



At the time of writing, 20 December 2010, the ground is covered by about 10cm of snow and we are seeing some record low temperatures for prolonged periods. At this point in the year we have about 16 hours of darkness when most species of birds are unable to feed and only 8 hours, given a fairly bright day, for birds to forage and find sufficient food to sustain them through long, very cold nights. Clearly the populations of many smaller species will suffer great losses, and this is on top of continuing declines over five or more decades but we can help reduce the losses by an intelligent feeding plan either in your garden or an open green space close by. If your garden is frequented by cats choose the latter location.


Cats take a terrible toll of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles and while it is argued ‘its nature’ what certainly is not natural is the sheer number of cats in any one square kilometre of urban or suburban habitat. If wild cats were still part of our native Fauna it is unlikely there would be more than one pair within our parish boundary.


There are various products for discouraging cats from your garden such as the electronic sound emitting device triggered by movement, but at best they are only partially effective. Cats will use shrubs and plants as cover when stalking their prey so suspended feeders must be placed in open locations, remember, some species will prefer to glean food from the ground under the feeder so position the feeder pole the maximum distance from any plants or shrubs. In small gardens this poses another problem because feeders should be moved to fresh ground occasionally to prevent the spread of diseases, but a relocation about two metres from the previous position will provide relatively fresh ground. If your garden does not offer sufficient safe, open areas and you have an adjacent mown amenity area with trees (most have) you might be tempted to risk a cheap seed, peanut or fat ball feeder suspended from one of these trees and you can also ground feed mixed bird food with cereals, and suitable table scraps of wholemeal bread. Please do not feed salty or processed foods and only feed the amount you know will be cleared that day to avoid encouraging rodents.


A bird table is very decorative in the garden particularly if adorned with a variety of finches and tits but they, like all feeders, must be thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis to avoid as far as possible, the spread of Trichomonosis which has caused significant declines in our local Greenfinch and Chaffinch populations during winter 2008 & 2009. In some affected regions the breeding populations of both species have suffered declines of 20% to 35% this is very serious indeed given the existing ongoing declines resulting from habitat loss, so, hygiene is critical. Bird tables are not easy to clean so I would recommend covering the feeding area with say, a piece of cardboard cut to size which can be removed on a weekly basis or sooner if wet weather prevails, and simply replaced.


Although a range of foods are recommended to attract a wide variety of species, members of the tit family are attracted to peanuts and fat balls, blackbirds thrushes and starlings (the latter is now amber or red listed) are very fond of sultanas and other dry fruits which prove a life saver in frozen or drought conditions. Sparrows (now red listed for more than a decade) finches, doves, rooks and crows will take mixed bird seed with cereal, and table scraps such as wholemeal bread (not white) will help sparrows, starlings rooks, crows, common and black headed gulls and occasionally blackbirds. However, there is a ‘one size fits all’ option, with the possible exception of gulls, and that is sunflower hearts or de-husked sunflower seed, which are quite soft and readily taken by insectivores and fruit eaters. I have found this food very successful in attracting goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, in fact all species that attend my garden feeders will take this food, and any that falls to the ground will be gleaned by doves, pigeons blackbirds and starlings but the latter will also take from the feeder. Sunflower hearts are relatively expensive but there is no waste, if you only have space for one feeder and you want a good variety of birds in your garden, choose sunflower hearts. Allow the birds a week or two to locate your feeder and I think you will be delighted with the results.


I usually provide advice for a range of wildlife that may reside in and around your garden but the extreme winter weather has created a crisis for many bird species so providing food and water (keeping the latter ice free is something of a battle) is an absolute priority at this time and will prove a life saver for many birds, especially the smaller species – PLEASE HELP!


If you wish to contact me, you can do so by phone on (01787) 374874 or Mobile 07534 263629. 

George Millins – Local Conservationist


2010 Spring

Issue 41


At this gloomy, damp time in the year with so few daylight hours, most of us will hurry to the warmth and comfort of home - just pause for a moment, and spare a thought for all the wild creatures out there. As wild creatures they are certainly a lot tougher than our species and our chosen pets however, they not only need, but deserve some help and consideration from the species that has selfishly rendered most of their habitat inhospitable and incapable of sustaining much of our native wildlife through the coming months.


Amphibians, reptiles and the small hibernating mammals such as bats and hedgehogs are very vulnerable indeed, and will probably die if carelessly disturbed while in hibernation - it is worth mentioning again that as a result of declining numbers the hedgehog is now a 'Biodiversity Action Plan Species' (B.A.P. Species). So, as mentioned in previous articles, please be very watchful if you have a need to disturb compost heaps/bins, any hibernating amphibians or reptiles present will mostly be at the base close to the ground where the temperature is constantly low but normally frost-free. Piles of branches and hedge cuttings will attract amphibians and hedgehogs; the latter may also occupy spaces under sheds and other outbuildings. Piles of rubble, slabs and even individual bricks and flat pieces of wood often provide a refuge for amphibians but they are likely to seek a better hibernaculum after the first frosts.


Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so if seen wandering during daylight hours it is probably a sick or wounded animal and will need care. Vets will usually treat wild creatures for free and most will have contacts experienced in the art of nursing hedgehogs back to health. Under weight hedgehogs will not survive hibernation and such animals may be seen at this time, any hedgehog found at this point in the year should be taken to a vet to be checked and weighed - it may well save their life. These animals have a rather fitful hibernation, so it is possible to find a healthy animal wandering after dark in mild conditions.


The following extracts illustrate the UK's failure to take adequate steps to reverse the decline in Great Crested Newt populations and habitats, which automatically indicates big problems for ALL our native amphibians - indeed wildlife in general. In 2005 European courts ruled against the UK for not adequately carrying out surveillance and monitoring of European Protected Species such as Great Crested Newt (GCN), this being a crucial aspect of GCN conservation activity (Langton T. 2009). Up to an estimated third of UK GCN sites have disappeared since 1979. The 2010 UK GCN target to make replacement ponds has an estimated 95%+ shortfall. Less than 1% of UK breeding sites have designated protection (Langton T. 2009).


So, UK governments have an abysmal conservation record, pampering to the need and greed of the selfish, insensitive masses - how can the more caring among us help? In a practical way you can create wildlife habitats, even in small gardens - if two or three adjacent gardens allow a little space for wildlife it becomes a significant habitat. It is also very important politically to subscribe to a major conservation organisation such as the County Wildlife Trust, Froglife (now renamed), British Trust for Ornithology or R.S.P.B. - contact details available on line or by request. The greater the membership of these organisations, the greater their political clout.


By the time you receive your Cornard News the emergence from hibernation of amphibians and reptiles will be imminent. On emergence adult amphibians will make their way to their breeding pond, this may mean crossing a road which results in large numbers being killed. If you find numbers of amphibians crushed on the road please inform 'Amphibian and Reptile Conservation' formerly 'Froglife' on 01733 558844 or email enquiries@arc-trust.org If reasonable numbers are present, that section of road will be identified as an official crossing, and volunteers will be sought to help the amphibians across the road to their breeding pond. This initiative is very important and has doubtless saved many amphibian colonies from extinction.


I hope you remembered to clean out your bird boxes by the beginning of Feb. as some birds will show an interest in a potential nest site well before egg laying. If this has not been done there is probably still time, providing there is no apparent interest in the nest box.


If you wish to contact me, you can do so by phone on (01787) 374874 or Mobile 07534 263629. 

George Millins – Local Conservationist


2010 Summer

Issue 42


As we approach the end of Spring, after the coldest winter for three decades, please do not assume the birds are no longer in need of help with food and water. In fact, consumption from my garden feeders and the birdbath has at least doubled; as it always does when young birds are in the nest.


It seems that Goldfinches - one of our smallest finches - have suffered losses over the long, cold winter, it is important to provide for them to reduce losses from the new generation and help to rebuild their population numbers. The intensely arable nature of our countryside and the constant mowing of most grassland creates a state of famine for this specialist seedeater especially at this time in the year. I find sunflower hearts (de-husked sunflower seed) the best all round food, add a peanut feeder and, if you have NOT got a cat problem in your garden, mixed seed and cereal feed on the ground will attract a wide variety of species.


I cannot stress enough the importance of hygiene on bird baths, feeders and tables, birds can contract salmonella etc. from dirty feeding stations and ground feeding locations should be changed - if space allows - and swept clean from time to time. Feeders need washing, in dry weather about once a month, in damp weather fortnightly or even weekly. Keep a watchful eye on your feeders, if the contents at the bottom of the feeder changes colour, or mould is apparent remove it immediately, discard remaining contents and replace with a clean feeder and fresh contents. For these reasons choose plastic or metal feeders rather than wood, as the latter is so difficult to keep clean.


An ornamental wood bird table is an attractive feature in the garden but, for the sake of the birds you are trying to help, use the table for water placed in a washable bowl and hang feeders from the bird table. You may have noticed the absence of greenfinches over the winter period, this species has also suffered considerable losses resulting from a contagious disease affecting their throat and preventing them from swallowing I'm told. I am as yet unaware of the cause or origin of this disease but it seems to be confined to greenfinches thus far.


Now that many species have more or less emerged from hibernation many will once again be battling with other aspects of nature as well as cutting and slashing with power tools. Please be aware of nesting birds and amphibians sheltering under ground covering foliage that may also be a refuge for the poor hedgehog, now so sadly depleted in numbers, and a B.A.P. (Biodiversity Action Plan) species. Also remember robins will sometimes nest on or very close to the ground, so a careful search before cutting, PLEASE.


If you would like to help wildlife I have a range of fact sheets and can arrange an advisory visit on a voluntary basis. If you wish to contact me, you can do so by phone on (01787) 374874 or Mobile 07534 263629.


George Millins – Local Conservationist


2010 Autumn

Issue 43


This issue covered a report on Shawlands Wood & Bank


2010 Winter

Issue 44


At this point in time things are looking bleak for wildlife globally. Recently, it was announced that we are in danger of losing one third of the world’s species of flora and fauna. In Britain we have a very poor record for conserving our wildlife and about a year ago the European Court condemned Britain for failing to sufficiently monitor our Great Crested Newt populations - European Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species - and its breeding habitats.  


Prime Minister David Cameron, in a recent speech to the Wildlife Trusts, pledged to restore nature. These seem hollow words in the light of the planned sale by two of his councils, Babergh and Ipswich Borough Council, of a key wildlife area in Ipswich known as Kiln Meadow. This site includes a County Wildlife Site (CWS) and a Site Of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The site has natural springs and supports one of the largest Common Toad populations in Britain, as well as reptiles, all of which are protected by law. Recently Dormice were found in the site, these have long since been a BAP species due to dramatic declines. This site cannot be replaced by throwing developers money at mitigation measures contrived by Ecological Consultants.


I think it a fair assumption that those who read my conservation articles are wise enough to realise the importance of preserving our wildlife, it is a moral obligation and our ultimate survival is very dependant on biodiversity. If you feel strongly about this proposed ecological vandalism please write or email Babergh D.C. and our MP Tim Yeo. Our local conservation group CHANCE and the Ipswich protest group SKIM (Save Kiln Meadow) have worked very hard indeed to prevent the sale and subsequent destruction of all or part of this truly exceptional habitat. If this site is sold it makes an absolute nonsense of SCC aspiration to be 'The Greenest County'!!!   A Facebook site exists called Save Kiln Meadow http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=46527362742  



On a less depressing note, the first Sunday in the month is the work party date for Shawlands Wood and Bank, children, teenagers and Mums from the TANK group accompanied by CHANCE have carried out valuable habitat work on the site. [Click the photo for a bigger picture]


This work is designed to increase diversity of habitat and thus diversity of flora and fauna while preserving species currently present. The TANK group has planted a number of native butterfly food and nectar plants on an area designated as a butterfly meadow; this will also benefit a range of other invertebrates and the reptiles present. An open glade is being created to preserve the three species of wild orchid present; these were being shaded out by encroaching scrub. This scrub clearance will benefit other ground flora and provide basking opportunities for the reptiles. There are a number of tasks to be completed over the winter so any help will be much appreciated, meet at 10am at the old adult exercise area opposite Poplar Road on the first Sunday in the month.


The CHANCE group is an active, hands-on conservation and education group engaged in active habitat creation, maintenance and the protection of wildlife, if you wish to join us just contact me on the numbers below, there is NO subscription fee; all we need is your enthusiasm. Please come and join us at 10am on the first Sunday of the month and we should be able to achieve Local Nature Reserve Status for Shawlands Wood & Bank even sooner.


If you would like to help wildlife I have a range of fact sheets and can arrange an advisory visit on a voluntary basis. You can contact me on (01787) 374874, Mobile 07534 263629 or by email at george@millins.myzen.co.uk  


George Millins – Local Conservationist