Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Zoos, their place in modern society.

Hello dear followers and welcome to John, my newest follower. I hope this all finds you safe and well.

STOP THE PRESS!!!!

I was just beginning to write this post, in fact I was some way through my musings when it suddenly came to light that the BBC, in their infinite wisdom, were planning to axe The Sky at Night TV program.
Yes, you read that correctly, there is no typo. I don't think there isn't a person in the world who hasn't heard of the late Sir Patrick Moore (we miss you Sir Patrick). His once a month Sky at Night TV program enlightened millions of viewers for more than 50 years. The show has been the longest running TV program in the world. There are scientists working around the world today that were inspired by Sir Patrick and his show in their childhood and the BBC feel that less than a year after his death, it's time to axe the show.

However, I'm still unsure as to whether this news is true or not. The only source I can find for it is from a dubious, unintentionally comical, newspaper (I use the term newspaper in the loosest possible sense) called The Daily Mail. Yet, they state that the BBC has failed to deny these rumours and looking around on social media at all the presenters of the said program, nothing is being said their either. Yet the fact that the BBC haven't come forward to deny it all seems a bit strange. Maybe the BBC leaked it deliberately to see what the public reaction to such a move would be, this way avoiding upsetting TV licence payers, who knows. In the meantime there is already a petition up and running to stop the BBC from doing such an abhorrent thing and there are people also posting a link (myself included) to the BBC complaints page to tell them what fools they are being if the above is true.

I'll keep my ears to the ground and will keep you posted on such developments should they arise.

I fancy a MOOC!

You may have seen this on the news lately, MOOC's! But what is it I hear you ask?
Quite simply it is a Massive Open Online Course open to anyone in the world and it means ANYONE. You don't have to have any credentials and here's the good bit, IT'S FREE!

So why is it in the news? Mainly because the UK has now decided to get on board after several countries have been running them for years with great success. The Open University along with 17 other UK universities have courses on offer, yet there doesn't seem to be much in the way of natural history courses. But it's early days and this may soon change, you never know.

These are some of the natural history related courses I've found:


Global Warming: The science of climate change

Volcanic Eruptions: A material science

Dino 101: Dinosaur paleobiology

Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets

Of course, there are courses on lots of different things, there are hundreds of them in fact and you can see them all here. The time to study is around 3-8 hrs per week over anything from 6-16 weeks and as it's free, you have no reason whatsoever not to give one a go. You never know, you might like it and you might learn something new too!

Zoos, are they really needed?

When I was a little boy, I remember my mother taking me too London Zoo to see Guy the gorilla. I remember looking up at the cage at what seemed a tall, towering (in my child eyes) huge gorilla which was standing up clapping. Everyone watching would start to clap along with him to which he seemed to enjoy, along with the audience. Then he walked over to his water bowl, took a large drink of water and in one spit sprayed everyone in front of him. Even then, in my young years (I couldn't have been no older than 6 or 7), I saw this as his protest against his captivity and it imprinted something on me at that point. As far as I can remember, I haven't been in a zoo since. As time has gone on, I've always considered zoos to be nothing more than the old circus freak shows where people go just to point and stare and try and get the animals to do funny things so they can send the video off to You've Been Framed for their £250.
Zoos were something of the Victorian era where explorers of the Great British empire would show their weird and wonderful curiosities that they had encountered and collected on their travels. No thought was given to the animal's requirements such as habitat, sociality or such. It was thought that as long as it was fed and watered, it would be enough. There was no such thing animal behaviourists or ecologists to consider the animal's welfare. Social creatures like Guy, were put in small cages on their own and denied social contact with his own kind, not deliberately, but through ignorance. Even when I went to see him in the 70's, nothing much had changed. Animal studies were happening, but still, very little was known and Guy still sat in a small cage on his own being pointed at and mocked by those who crowded to see him. So sad.
Guy died in 1978 from a heart attack after an operation and he still didn't get any peace in death as his body was stuffed and is now on display in a Sheffield museum I believe.
Guy the Gorilla.
So what of zoos nowadays, are they really needed? Worldwide travel is relatively cheap these days and the internet and HD TV bring the world to your front room so that you don't even have to leave the comfort of your house to go and see a Duck-billed Platypus or a Mountain Gorilla. Technology in the form of microscopic cameras allow us to see into every nook and cranny of our biodiverse planet. Surely we don't need zoos anymore, but they still exist. They exist under the guise of 'Animal Conservation'. They are there, so we are told, to help protect endangered species, they have breeding programs to help these species that are on the verge of extinction. Or are they?
Recently in one of my blogs, I reported the fact that the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust pinion their non-native birds. Pinioning is the practice where they cut away a piece of wing from a newly hatched bird, which stops the bird from flying, thus crippling it for life.
In fairness to WWT, here's a link to their view of this. However, I feel that if they are running a re-introduction program, why are they not releasing the birds back to their native lands?
The same as zoos, why are they keeping giraffes, lions, deer, meerkats if they're not endangered?
Edinburgh Zoo reportedly pays the Chinese government £600,000 a year till 2021 to keep the panda's there. Yet, this may shock you, but what is the point on wasting money to breed a creature that is rubbish at breeding, if you don't have any habitat to release it back into. Surely, it would make more sense to spend these large amounts of monies into buying huge swathes of land to protect their environment. It's endangered because its habitat is disappearing and it's too lazy to be getting jiggy with it. The Panda's at Edinburgh are simply a commercial deal that will see people flocking at £16 a head to see Panda's. Apparently, this £6m deal is worth £50m in revenue to the city, so who cares if they breed or not. Who cares if their habitat disappears or not, no-one as long as there is someone willing to come along and point and make funny faces, take some pictures buy a "I SAW THE PANDA'S" T-shirt. That'll be £50 please, NEXT!
No, in my opinion, zoos have had their day. If conservation is all they're interested in, then they should pull all their resources together, work out what needs to be saved and buy one large suitable place to do it all in. Then, return all those creatures back to their foreign lands (if that's possible, if not euthanise) sell off all the old zoos to fund the new place and leave the word zoo back with Queen Victoria.
There really is no place for zoos in our modern era, surely, we're more intelligent than that, or are we?

My little bit

It's a vicious rumour I tell you, oh, no sorry. Was thinking of something else. Last time I spoke of my
little piece for the Suffolk Naturalist's Society newsletter White Admiral. Well now by the wonder of modern technology (the internet) you can read it too! Just click this link.

That's all for now, but till next time folks
Take care.









Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The young and the old.

Hello dear followers and a warm and happy welcome to two new followers Rob and Ryan, welcome aboard and glad to have you as my followers.

Well I'm pretty sure by now, wherever you are in the country, you must have definitely felt the effects of autumns approach. In fact I woke up this morning to get to the moth trap before the birds and the first thing I noticed that the heating was on. Noticed it even more when I stepped outside, half awake to a very chilly 9.2ºC. Brrr.

Even the moth numbers were down compared to last weeks 274 moths of 46 species. This mornings trap only yielded 121 moths of 23 species and 1 little caterpillar I found crawling across the floor towards the trap, which I identified as a Bright-line Brown-eye moth. But not to fear, even though everything is beginning to tuck itself up for winter, the last of my Hawkmoth's included, there's still plenty to see and do.
Privet Hawkmoth on the left at 2" long. The rest are Poplar Hawkmoths.

A day in Oxford

No, I'm not going to university (unfortunately), it was for an event being held by the Amateur Entomologist Society (AES) and their Bug Club for young aspiring entomologists. Not that I'm a young aspiring entomologist, more of an old aspiring entomologist. But I was welcomed along all the same, including non-members to see what it was all about. 
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has been closed all this year whilst they have a bit of a refurbishment, yet we were welcomed in, behind closed doors to see behind the scenes in the entomology department. This is akin to music from the heavens for any entomologist, amateur or professional and I was going to pass that one up and it seemed that it was meant to be for me to attend as wifey found a glass art course happening on that day only a couple of minutes away from the museum, bonus!
It didn't start until 11am and the first thing we did was all tramp off to the local park where the two staff on hand Darren Mann and Chris Jarvis explained and gave a demonstration to all the gathered kids on how to use a sweep net to collect specimens.
Darren gives a talk and demonstration on how to use a sweep net.
With a few sweeps, Darren showed just how many specimens he could bag and before you knew it, there were kids everywhere sweeping the local vegetation looking for whatever they could find. It was during this time I bumped into Hermione, a BSc Environmental Science graduate about to start her MSc. Whilst we were chatting I happened to look down to my side and immediately saw a large pair of wings sticking out from behind a leaf by my knee. I knew straight away what this was and like any good, prepared naturalist whipped out a small glass vial from my pocket and placed it, very slowly over the subject. Yes! It was a Hornet mimic hoverfly Volucella inanis.
Neatly caught within my glass vial.
As you can see from the picture above, it's quite a large hoverfly, in fact it is the largest hoverfly and I'm sure you would agree, it looks very much hornet like too. A good defence strategy if I ever saw one. These do not sting or bite, but only drink the nectar from flowers. Their young larvae live in the bottom of wasp and hornet nests feeding on the detritus they find there. 
The same hoverfly happy to pose for a pic after being released.
The kids were then shown other ways of collecting and looking for insects, including looking on and under the bark of trees as well as beating and the use of beat trays.

Inspecting a beating tray after giving a branch a good shake.
After about an hour of this we all headed back to the museum for a spot of lunch. This is where I caught up with Sally-Ann Spence of Minibeast Mayhem, the educational outreach roadshow that teaches children lots about bugs using giant insects such as large stick insects, cockroaches and praying mantis'. I've only ever had the pleasure of communicating with Sally-Ann through the medium of Twitter before now and she has always been so helpful with advice and encouragement before and none of that changed when I met her in person. In fact she exudes enthusiasm and encouragement which is really nice to see in a person. She is also very passionate in getting these sort of lessons into our educational curriculum. And why not, after all, nearly 80% of all life on Earth is an insect. Kids are fascinated by the natural world and yet we never ever teach our children about it. It's the biggest dis-service we could ever do to our children, thankfully, there are people like Sally-Ann who are out there trying to put an end to that. If you've got a child in school, try and get your school to book Sally-Ann to do a workshop, your child and others will thank you for it.

A spot of pinning

After lunch, the youngsters (and some of the adults too) got round to a spot of pinning. Using beetles preserved in alcohol, the children were all given boxes, foam, pins and instructions and shown how to pin and display an insect.
Select your beetle, dry it out and pin it.
All the kids took to this with great gusto and not before long they each had a little display box with lines of beetles neatly pinned to take home.
You might think that giving kids pins is a recipe for disaster, yet no children were harmed during this well supervised activity.

Behind the scenes

After this we came to the bit I for one had been eagerly waiting for, the behind the scenes tour. This is where we were taken to the various store rooms around the museum to see the thousands of trays holding specimens from all around the world, including the oldest pinned insect on its original pin.
A Bath White Butterfly caught in Cambridge in 1702 and still on its original pin.
Before insects were pinned, they were usually stuck on a piece of card, a bit like a pressed flower. However, the downside to this is that you cannot examine the ventral surface (the underside) of the insect in question. So that is why insects are usually pinned now instead of being stuck on cards.
This is not the only boast the Oxford University Museum of Natural History can boast of. Recently a work experience teenager working here found butterflies collected by the Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Many of his collection was lost at sea when a fire broke out on his ship, yet the teenager Athena Martin searched through over 3000 drawers at the museum and found over 300 butterflies from his collection. Another fine example why we need more youngsters coming into the profession. You can read more about it here.
The tour took us up into the attics of the museum above where The Great Debate took place over Darwin's Origin of the Species. Here the cabinets filled the spaces in long rows each containing many display drawers and each cabinet stacked two high.
This is just one side of the roof.
 When we walked into this room, both me and Hermione looked up in amazement and said in unison, "Wow, I could live here." The atmosphere of the room and the smell of mothballs took your breath away in a good way and I could totally spend a long, long time in here just sifting through the drawers.

Time to explore!
There is quite a range of insects stored here, wasps, flies, butterflies and moths. Not only from the UK, but from all over the world.

Some lovely looking wasps all elegantly pinned for display.

Some of the largest butterflies in the world.

And some of the most iridescent too.
Hermione takes a peek.
Even I was caught in the act.
There were bugs of all shapes and sizes.
Yes, there were bugs of every shape and size from tiny little things stuck on a card because to place a pin in them would virtually destroy them.
So tiny.

Then there were the large beetles from the genus Dynastes.
That's my hand in the picture to give you some idea of scale.
I would love to see one of these in the wild, they look awesome when they're dead, they must look out of this world when they're alive and walking around.
There were beetles of unimaginable colour too.
Who would've thought such a colour existed in nature?

Another species, another wonderful colour.

Sorry for the blurriness, camera phones don't work well in low lighting.
Of course, there were so many different specimens too see, that it would be impossible to see them all in one day. Sally-Ann commented that if one person was left to catalogue the whole insect collection, it would take them well over 100 years to do so. That really would be a job for life, I wonder if I can apply!!

Then for something a little more interactive

After the tour, we were all introduced to Sally-Ann's not so little friends. Sally-Ann had brought with her some of her educational insects that we could all get to hold and stare at in awe. One of these included a Papa New Guinea Spiny Stick Insect which Sally-Ann put into my care to look after.
Papa New Guinea Spiny Stick Insect on my forearm.

Such a beautiful creature and quite a sturdy thing too.
Sally-Ann had showed me how to handle the insect when letting the children hold them and it wasn't long before I had several kids asking me to have a hold. All of the kids were great in letting them walk up their arms. Only one child had doubts and pulled away as soon as it set foot on her. But fair play to her for even trying as she was obviously a little bit scared by it and who can blame them. Insects this size are not seen in the wild in this country and couple this with the fears of the adults, some of who scream at the sight of a bee, then of course some children are going to be scared. They learn fear from us. But with the right education and coercing, it needn't and shouldn't be like that.
Then more and more of the insects were shown around which the kids loved.

Getting to grips with a variety of insects.
Last but not least, the museum have some specimens of their own including this lovely scorpion being held by Jordan Rainey.
Am trying to work out what's biggest, Jordan's smile or the scorpion.
Needless to say, there was one creature that I spotted from the moment I walked in and when the opportunity came for me to have a hold I couldn't resist.
Me and a Mexican Red-kneed Tarantula
It truly is a thing of beauty and the feeling of it walking up my arm is one I can only explain as strange but enjoyable. 
A thing of beauty
 What a wonderful way to end a wonderful day is all I can say on that. But before I sign off, there are just a couple of things of utmost importance that I would like to say.

1. Yes, these insects are fab and if you're considering getting one for yourself PLEASE, PLEASE, read up on the insect your interested in first. Make sure you can give it all the right conditions and foods it requires without any problems. Can you afford to look after it? Don't make sacrifices either, make sure it has the proper purpose built equipment needed to house it. IF IN ANY DOUBT, DON'T GET IT. Because in the end, it'll only be the insect that suffers for your error of judgement and that is most unfair.

2. I would like to say a great big thank you to the museum staff Darren Mann and Chris Jarvis for all their expertise on the day and providing such wonderful things to look at. Dafydd Lewis of the Amateur Entomologists Society for organising the event and Sally-Ann Spence of Minibeast Mayhem for all the wonderful creatures, encouragement, enthusiasm. It was a pleasure to meet you all.

3. I would also like to say a special thanks to Sally-Ann and Hermione for letting me use some of their photos taken on the day, I really appreciate it. Thank you.

That's all for this time, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Till next time, keep safe.







Friday, 6 September 2013

Last days of summer

Hello dear followers, sorry for the delay between posts but I've been busy trying to make the most of the weather which until now has been quite pleasant for the time of year. So let's catch up with what's been happening of late.

Fame at last (well almost).

Well, not quite, but just as good. Not so long ago, the editor (Ben Heather) of the Suffolk Naturalists' Society magazine, White Admiral, contacted me asking if I would be happy to write a piece on the benefits of social media to the naturalist. Needless to say I was honoured and more than happy to oblige. Well, it was published a couple of weeks ago and I feel quite chuffed. 
White Admiral, the magazine of the Suffolk Naturalists' Society
I'm already writing my next piece the the magazine, although, won't know yet if it'll be good enough to be published. I could get the hang of this columnists thing. 
In the meantime, if you fancy joining the SNS or want to buy membership for a friend as an Xmas gift, then go to their website to find out more details.

Whilst we're on the subject

I saw my first one of the year in my garden the other week. Unfortunately, it wasn't a White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) but a beautiful Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Yes, just another visitor to my flourishing buddleia which has had so many visitors of late, that I'm surprised it hasn't run out of nectar. I stood in front of it the other day and counted ~25 butterflies on it (19 were Small Tortoiseshell's). There were many more bees and hoverflies as well, just too many to count and all this was on just one side of it as I can't see what's happening on my neighbours at all. Most of the butterflies on it these past  weeks were Small Tortoiseshell's (Aglais urticae), in abundance and some Peacock's (Inachis io).
Red Admiral.
The Buddleia has been a focal point in my garden this year with many butterflies, moths, bees and other insects making great use of this valuable nectar resource. Every now and then though, I would find a dead bumblebee laying on the patio beneath the bush and as you may know, owning a microscope, I would collect these to have a closer look. I've also learnt how to pin insects this year and I decided to collect these dead bumblers every time I found one and pin it. The end result has culminated in this little display.
All found in one summer, under one bush, in one garden, by one person, in one country,
on one planet, in... (I could go on forever).
Already, I've had a few nay sayers questioning my ID'ing of these bees as it is very hard to tell in the field, the difference between Buff-tail (Bombus terrestris) workers and White-tail (Bombus lucorum) workers as they both look the same. However, the queens do not and the white/buff tail is fairly obvious between them and as many of you may know that I've been lucky this year in having these bumblers nesting under my pond waterfall opposite the Buddleia. I was even luckier to see a new queen leave the nest and land straight on the buddleia opposite, where I could clearly see the buff-tail which gives it its name.
Anyway, this little collection is for my own benefit only and to show any kids if I'm asked to do a school show and tell again, so it's no real biggy if I'm wrong, even if it's only slightly wrong.

A little wander

Me and the wifey went on a little walk the other week where we came across this unusual looking tree.
Wifey examines the split tree.
At some point in its early life, it had split apart and continued to grow this way until it joined together again at about 8ft high. I love little oddities like this in nature, it's just another facet of what makes nature so intriguingly fascinating.

We also came across a bee hive up high in a tree, but due to weight restrictions (I cannot carry anything heavy, doctors orders) I didn't bring my big lens out with me so was unable to get a decent enough shot. But it was still an interesting thing to see, watching the hive of activity as the bees went back and forth in and out of the hole in the trunk.

The last day of summer

Yes, the weather men and women were all saying it, that it was going to be the last day of summer as far as the weather was concerned, with temperatures expecting to hit the 30ºC's! So I thought that I would make the most of it and get up early for a nice sunrise walk. I chose to go to Newbourne Springs, a nature reserve I found this year and also done a butterfly count there where I saw no less the 105 butterflies in just 15 minutes. It's only a 10 minute drive from me too, so not too far for me to travel, which is a bonus in my current situation. 
The mist was heavy in places when I arrived with spiders webs all glistening with dew. The place was still and silent and an ideal place to be when reflecting back on the summer that's just been. I only came across one human walker as it was quite evident that it was the dog pulling the not so eager human along instead of it being visa versa. 
The first thing I noticed was that there had been some clearance of vegetation, quite a lot of it in fact. It's this sort of thing that I often struggle with. It's called a nature reserve, but yet, the nature within it has to be managed. Why? Why just not leave it to manage itself? As long as you can keep the pathways clear, let the nature within the reserve get on with managing itself. After all, what happened before mankind came on the scene? Who chopped down the large swathes of rushes and nettles then? And surely, within those large dense beds of vegetation, there must be many overwintering insects and creatures who rely on this sort of habitat? I wonder if Suffolk Wildlife Trust would be willing to undergo an experiment in re-wilding to see what would happen? I for one would like to see something like this happen.
Anyway, I digress. Due to the vegetation destruction, sorry management, I took a wrong turn, simply because I didn't recognise the place. However, I soon realised and continued down my erroneous path to see where it would lead me. I then came across this bird box that did not house birds, but instead a family (if you can call them that) of Hornets! This is the first hornets I've seen in this country this year and the first ever hornet nest I ever seen. Although I was only a few feet away from them, I remained a respectful distance from them as I know hornets to be highly intelligent and very aware. They even post workers to stand on guard duty around the nest and attack anything that comes too close, so I wasn't taking chances. I was just happy to stand there and watch and listen, because the sound that emanates from the nest is quite loud and is of constant chomping. I would love to go back and have a closer look  when the hornets have all gone. 
I'm not going to be the one to tell them it's a bird box and
they shouldn't be there!
There wasn't much else too see wildlife wise on this beautiful morning, or maybe it was because I was in a different head space to be truly aware of the things going on around me. But I was captivated by the beautiful mistiness of my surroundings.

Just a misty field.
A path to...

Into the light.
It wasn't long before I had completed my circular walk and found my way back to the start. On the way home, I thought I'd pop in to Purdis Heath to see what I could find.

Purdis Heath

The sun was well and truely up by now and the heather was looking lovely with bees buzzing around visiting all the tiny little flowers that heather produces. I managed to grab this quick shot of a small copper (Lycaena phlaeas) also grabbing a quick drink, but it wasn't hanging around for pictures I'm afraid.
Small Copper on heather.
Again, this site has been managed, but I can understand why in this instance. Purdis Heath is just that, a heath. It's through human encroachment that deciduous trees have begun invading the heathland site and changing its ecology from heathland to woodland. This is not good news for the various insects that have used this environment for millennia. So, due to many volunteers under the guidance of Matt Berry of Butterfly Conservation, the trees are chopped down and converted into dead hedges for wildlife. They still have a long hard battle on their hands and I'm sure Matt is welcome for more people to come on board and help out over the winter months.

Purdis Heath in full bloom.
I soon found myself heading for the cover of some of these trees to get out of the heat of the morning sun, so harsh it was. It was I noticed a pair of dragonflies hawking around catching flies from the air then returning to a protruding twig to either devour their prey or look out for the next unfortunate victim. I love these creatures, so prehistoric looking and so very aware of their surroundings. I say prehistoric looking, yet these creatures flew around our prehistoric planet at the same time as the dinosaurs. Fossil records show them with wing spans nearly a metre wide (75cm to be precise). Can you imagine that? Awesome. The reason they don't reach that size now is due to the atmosphere. Then, when the dinosaurs walked the Earth, there was much more oxygen in the atmosphere than there is today, allowing for creatures to grow much bigger. But even though today's dragonflies are small in comparison, they're still just as wonderful.
An old female Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) in the late afternoon sun.
The other dragonfly which is a female Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)
As I mentioned earlier, they are very aware of their surroundings and they were very aware of me approaching them to get their picture. I had to move in very slowly so as not to scare them off. I suppose that it's down to their agility in flight and their quick responses that make them quite relaxed when it comes to someone taking pictures of them. I remember about 10 years ago when I used to live on the broads. One day whilst sitting on the front of the boat reading the paper, a Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) landed on my knee. I was amazed to be able to look at this wonderful insect so closely and it was quite aware of me as it turned its head to look in my direction. It then amazed me more by taking off from my knee, flying up about a metre, grabbed an inflight fly and flew back down to land on my knee and finish its meal, absolutely stunning. So, yes, they are very aware of their surrounds and as proved, very agile in flight too.
I walked a bit further on and came across another dragonfly, this time a male Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) hawking around one of the oak trees.
Migrant Hawker male

From behind and below, unfortunately.
Unfortunately for me, he's resting place was about 2 feet above my head, so I was unable to get my camera into an appropriate position to get a good picture. So, sorry, this is the best I could do with this one.
He soon got fed up of me, and then I noticed on a leaf near to where he was resting, a small caterpillar. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a moth caterpillar of the Grey Dagger agg species.


Acronicta sp caterpillar. That black protrusion is supposed to be there.

Another surprise

When I got back, I saw a message from my neighbour that said he still had tadpoles in his pond. I was amazed to hear this and wondered what was going to happen to them come the onset of winter. So without further ado I Tweeted the Amphibian and Reptile Groups UK (@ARGroupsUK) about this and they sent me a link (which I will share with you) that explained the matter of late developers in full. For those who are not bothering with the link, I'll tell you. It's all about food and survival it seems. If there isn't much food in the pond, a tadpole can decide as early as early summer, that it will overwinter in the pond and emerge next year. This is a better survival strategy than emerging from the pond undersized.
I remember Jacob (Beetle Boy) covering tadpoles on his blog and mentioning that they could control their metamorphosis, but I didn't realise they could actually drag it out that long. So, if you, like my friend Mick, also have tadpoles in your pond, fear not, they'll be OK.

Have you noticed?

Have you noticed this year of the various companies springing up, offering wildflower seeds rolled in to seed balls mixed with soil and other stuff that you can carry in your pocket or car, ready to be lobbed into any area that lacks enough colour for your eyes. There adverts appear in many nature/environment/ecology magazines and across social media sites. Are they providing a beneficial service for the environment, making matters worse, or just making a quick buck off the green wagon?
It all depends on several matters really:

Are the seeds being used, native?

This must be the first question. And when I say native, I mean native to this country? It's all very well throwing a little ball of clay into a field margin thinking this'll help the birds and the bees. But if that little ball ends up containing some foreign species of plant that has no known predator in this part of the world, then what you could have done is sow the seed of a mini (possibly more) environment catastrophe! It sounds a bit dramatic, but when you're an insect that's only 1cm long, the field edge is a huge place to be and an invasive plant could swamp that area in no time killing all the true native wild plants in that area.

What seeds are actually in those little packets?

OK, so you've checked and the company says they only use native seed, bonus. However, here's the but. What if the seed may be native, but isn't actually common in the area you're dispersing it in to? What then? What impact are you having on that small little ecosystem that has thrived on the organisms within it and now has to deal with a foreign (in area terms) invader. Imagine Purdis Heath (mentioned above) but on a much smaller scale. Some companies use chilli powder in their mixes to deter predators from munching the seeds. But hold up, isn't that the whole part of nature? Some things get eaten, some are lucky and get missed. Already, the giving nature a helping hand ethos that the companies use is put into question by deterring nature's predators.

Green bandwagon???

I once attended a talk by Professor James Hitchmough. He was the man responsible for the planting of the Olympic wildlife park at Stratford, East London. In this talk, he explained the research and the trouble he and his team went to in making sure everything grew and most importantly of all, flowered at the right time, the opening of the Olympics. Part of his talk explained the process in getting seeds to germinate and, to cut a very long story short, it seems that if you happened to obtain the very best seed, the best expectations you can have is 30%. That's 30 seeds germinating for every 100 planted and that's top grade seed. Do you really think you're getting top grade seed when you pay a couple of quid for several hundred, possibly thousand, seeds?? I doubt it. But everyone else hears the 'Being green' type tagline and they're digging into their pockets for that spare couple of quid to buy what exactly? A packet of seeds that are mostly dead. Makes you wonder, doesn't it.
I too have tried some, and thrown half a dozen little spheres around my garden at the start of the year and I am still waiting to see something grow and now that autumn approaches, I think that's it's unlikely that anything will ever grow.

So what should you do?

In my opinion, the best thing you can do is not give your money to these companies, but spend the money on nectar rich plants for your gardens. If you view our towns and cities and even our countryside from the air, you'll see that for an insect, it's a barren place out there. By making sure your garden is well stocked with lots of nectar rich plants that give all summer long, then you'll be spending your money much more wisely than using it to throw a blob of mud into a hedge never to be seen again!

On reflection

All in all, we've had a lovely summery summer. The weather has been more summer like this year than previous years, the wildlife has been abundant and as per usual, I've learned so much more. I've met some wonderful people in the course of my studies and had some wonderful experiences too. I hope that you too have had a lovely summer and enjoyed what our wonderful diverse countryside has to offer. I speak as if this is the end, but it isn't. As the chillness of autumn approaches, I look forward, ever forward to learning and experiencing so much more and sharing those experiences and learnings with you, my dear followers. So stay with me folks and lets ride together into the autumnal chill of nature.

Till next time my friends, take care.