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A monthly commentary on birds in and around The Farleighs.


I have lived in East Farleigh for more than thirty years. As well as witnessing the steep country-wide decline in bird life over that period, I've become closely involved in monitoring the changes and in finding ways to conserve what we still have.


And there are good things happening too, so I hope this contribution presents a mixture of what makes the study of birds so interesting, especially of those still seen around The Farleighs.


Ray Morris


Latest Posts

Picture the scene – as recounted recently by a village allotment holder. You’re busily digging in the load of farmyard manure delivered to your plot. You pause to wipe the sweat from your brow when something catches your eye. Looking up, you see them. Three brown birds. Large brown birds. With hooked bills. Curved claws in yellow talons. You hear the rush of air through feathers, barely a wing’s length away. Buzzards.


Not what you expect on your allotment. Robins, yes. Blackbirds naturally. Even a pesky woodpigeon or two. But buzzards? They’re birds of prey surely; rabbits and that. Even lambs (so you’ve heard). Wasn’t there something in The Sun about them taking a baby from a pram?


But your infants are safe and may be lucky enough to grow up seeing these magnificent creatures at close quarters. Now we are finally recognising these graceful, soaring birds as the harmless small-mammal hunters they are, they are no longer persecuted, apart from by a few rogue gamekeepers on shooting estates. So, they are once again becoming a familiar part of our countryside. No hot summer day is complete without their mewing calls as they spiral upwards on thermals or pass food to each other as part of their mating rituals.


Nesting as they do in small clumps of trees as well as woodland, they nest in Quarry Wood and Hamlet Wood, for example, they are adapting to the chequered and increasingly built-up Kentish landscape.


Their claws are actually quite small – a large claw isn’t an advantage if you are trying to grab a mouse - but they can manage a young rabbit, or a slow, elderly one. But rabbit numbers fluctuate when disease, like myxomatosis, ravages their population, and the last ten years has seen it decimated by another, rabbit haemorrhagic disease.


So, when food is scarce, what do these large, fierce-looking birds turn to when when they’re hungry?


Another of their staple foods. Worms. In a ploughed field - or your allotment.


Photo by Darren Nicholls


My New Year Resolution is ....

Posted on 24th January, 2021

..... to keep up to date with this blog! Fingers crossed...


I won't use Covid as an excuse for my lapse - although lockdown has played its part. My time has been taken up with an enthusiastic group of farmers and residents in Marden where, as a result of last year's lockdown, the loose collection of people with a shared interest has co-erced into something called Marden Wildlife. As it is not too many miles away from the Farleighs there are many similarities between the two. Both have a Kent Wildlife Trust nature reserve - Quarry Wood and Marden Meadow. Orchards and arable farming (and hops) have been dominant in the past, and both areas are under pressure from new housing and increased traffic. But as we have discovered, when you start to look, especially on land where nature isn't pressured by the relentless drive to exploit the land for other purposes, there is still much wildlife - pants and animals - to be discovered and enjoyed. It is also worth noting that recording what we have found has helped resist some of the pressure to exploit the land it is on.


So what have we discovered that we could equally well find in the Farleighs? At this time of year, both areas are enjoying the nightly chorus of tawny owls; February's Lifeline enlarges a little on their calling and the importance of the subtle changes in birds' feathers at this time of year. It's likely that areas of rough grassland along the Medway will also support barn owls. I've not been aware of them in recent years, so can anyone update me on their presence? If the right habitat exists locally it's likely they will be as there are plenty along the Beult.


Image may contain: one or more people

A barn owl chick from a nest box. It will be weighed, measured

(its feather length can be used to age it) then fitted with a

uniquely numbered ring before being returned to its box.


There are many boxes around Marden for them to nest in, and we know most are occupied each year by owls - although they also host stock doves, squirrels and Mandarin ducks. A number of duck species nest in holes in trees, sometimes up to a kilometre away from the nearest water!


Image may contain: bird, sky and outdoor

A male Mandarin duck approaching its nest in an owl box.


Mandarin ducks are an introduced species, but they are becoming a common sight, so worth looking out for on a stroll along the river.


Another species we are studying with local farmers - some not very far from the Farleighs - is the yellowhammer. A scarce farmland bird that has suffered massive declines since 1970, there is still a reasonably healthy population in the Low Weald, so only a mile or so distant from the Greensand Ridge on which we are located. In very cold weather in late winter, when their naturally occuring food has all but disappeared from the countryside, they will visit gardens to feed on seeds put out by householders. In November and December we fitted coloured rings to 175 yellowhammers so that we can track their movements around the local area - and that could be as far as the Farleighs.


So please let me know if one turns up in your garden!



If you'd like to know more, visit the Marden Wildlife Facebook page, or email us at mardenwildlife@gmail.com 

It's that time of year again....

Posted on 19th August, 2020

“Where are they? My garden’s normally full of birds, but now there are hardly any!” So goes the most asked question of birdwatchers at this time of year. And with good reason. At the very time when the country’s bird population is probably at its greatest with all this year’s youngsters swelling the total, not only have the birds gone quiet, they’ve deserted our garden feeders too.

There’s a perfectly simple explanation. To begin with, Nature is providing a veritable smorgasbord of food: insects, seeds, berries and fruits of all kinds fill the hedgerows so suddenly the sunflower hearts and fatballs may seem less appealing to our regular garden visitors, and the smaller, or less dominant, birds don’t have to queue for their turn when there is so much available in the nearby bushes.

And a nearby bush, especially if it’s a thorny bramble, sloe or hawthorn, is a good place to be for many birds as most are now moulting. Not only does the cover afford food within easy reach, it means safety from predators at a time when birds’ flying is impaired because they don’t have a full set of flight feathers. They can still fly, but not so well as each wing could have three or four feathers either missing or not fully grown. Their body feathers are all being systematically replaced too, and this all adds to the energy requirement for new feather growth, so sitting quietly doing nothing frees up the calories for it.

Image may contain: sky, bird, outdoor and nature


This heron is moulting its flight feathers. The gap in the right wing (fifth feather in)

is a new feather growing. It is still only half-grown and the gap will make flying

just that little bit harder until it the feather completes its growth. Look carefully

and you can see the difference in colour between the four old, paler feathers

on the outside and the darker new feathers. This moutl will be mirrored in

both wings to make flying easier.

It has to be said that they don’t look their best either - a bit tatty, if we’re honest.



Young starlings still have a mixture of brown juvenile feathers sticking out of

their iridescent adult plumage.


Normally smart robins can look as though they’ve been in a stand-off with another robin that ended in fisticuffs; and a bald-headed blackbird that may have finally finished raising its second or even third brood appearing to gone ten rounds with ‘our ‘Enery’.

In a matter weeks though, their smart new plumage will be ready for the rigours of migration for those that do it, or for surviving an English winter (whatever that may turn out to be like) for those that don’t.


Image may contain: bird, sky and outdoor


Blackcaps have a black 'cap' normally - the clue's in the name. Except that

females and juvenile birds have brown ones (confused?). This is a juvenile bird

that we ringed a few days ago, so it has a brown cap. But we know it is a male

bird because, in the hand, we could see it is moulting its juvenile feathers and

could just see tiny black feathers beginning to grow on its head. If you enlarge

the picture you can just see the black feathers in the centre of it. Other new

feathers are growing too. If you look at the pale strip of feathers on its 'shoulder'

there are tiny white shafts of the new feathers coming through in place of the old

ones that have fallen out. He looks a bit messy at the moment but in a month's

time he'll be a smart new male, fattening himself up on elderberries ready to

migrate to the Mediterranean.

With any luck we'll retrap him in the same place next spring! 


The robin, furthermore, unique among our garden visitors, is already singing its mournful autumn song in preparation for establishing its winter territory.


Autumn will be well underway.


The photos in this month's blog are all take from Marden Wildlife - a Facebook page dedicated to the wildlife of a Kent country parish.

Lockdown Birdsong

Posted on 13th April, 2020

Possibly the only plus point in the current lockdown is that the world has become largely silent apart from natural sounds. Fortunately, now is the time of year when the world is anything but silent because we are surrounded by birdsong. An early morning jog around the village, or a stint in the garden, is accompanied by songs and calls from seemingly every tree or telegraph pole, rooftop, field or hedgerow. 


But for those who find the mixture of melody and timbre confusing, the sheer number of individuals contributing is frustrating, especially as many, like blackbird and song thrush for example, are similar. Learning to identify and differentiate a few species at a time, therefore, is a sensible strategy. In the case of the two in question, Robert Browning provided a clue 


That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

lest you should think he never could recapture

the first fine careless rapture! 


Listen carefully, and he does indeed repeat short phrases two or three times, while the blackbird is less repetitive.



Song Thrush


                                                                  BlackbirdEven the cuckoo can be confused with a distant collared dove, which itself is easily confused with woodpigeon. The trick of separating the latter two is the collared dove’s annoyingly repetitive football chant of “U-Ni-Ted, U-Ni-Ted”


Collared Dove


The woodpigeon’s call can be rendered as a different drone: in Gloucestershire, where historically Welsh border raids resulted in the loss of cattle, it was a monotonous “take-two-cows, Taffy; take-two-cows, Taffy; two”.




We can thank Enid Blyton for helping us recognise the yellowhammer’s “little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese”. Sung throughout the day, it is sometimes the only accompaniment to a drowsy summer afternoon when most other birds have fallen silent. An added delight is seeing the male’s head, lemon yellow against the dark green hawthorn leaves, protruding from the hedge.



Many species don’t have a convenient mnemonic to help us remember their song, but I sometimes find it helpful to create a mental picture of when and where I first connected a song to a species, like sitting next to a dense bramble patch in Suffolk where nightingales and a garden warbler were singing simultaneously. A magical moment, never to be forgotten.



Nightingale Bird Facts | Luscinia Megarhynchos - The RSPB


Garden Warbler

NB. Rarely seen or heard in gardens!

Nowadays, with a smartphone ever to hand, there are apps a-plenty to assist. Free ones are abundant, but come with abundant advertising too, and often with species you are never likely to hear. An app I have come to rely on is Chirp! Bird Songs UK and Europe, worth every penny of the £3.99 to download it. Simple to use, you can set it to UK species only, specify your habitat (a garden or moorland, for example) and has photographs to aid identification. Most helpfully, there is a ‘favourites’ function so that once you’ve mastered a species you can separate it for future reference.


Assuming you will be proud of your ability to distinguish your collared dove from your woodpigeon, and blackbird from song thrush when Lifeline is next published, I’ll provide a few more online hints for making the most of this, possibly unique, experience being forced upon us.

A warm bumbarrel

Posted on 17th March, 2020

My first day of Boris’ self-isolation diktat has been brightened by the discovery of a bumbarrel in the greenhouse. Before you reach for Google, bumbarrel is an old country name for the Long-tailed Tit – those tiny bundles of white, russet and pink feathers that arrive in your garden in family groups of a dozen or more. I soon cornered it and popped it in a bag for a few moments while I prepared to put a tiny, numbered ring on its leg. I weighed and measured it too before sending it on its way within minutes of catching it.


We ring the birds so that we learn how long they live (for this species, typically two years – but only if they are the one in four young that survives its first year), where they go (not very far) and many other aspects of their lives. The one I had in my hand weighed just 7.9g – a healthy weight and a little above average. This weight was soon explained when I blew gently on the bird’s tummy to part the feathers. A small patch of bare skin was starting to appear where tiny down feathers had fallen out. This, then, was a female bird preparing to lay eggs. The extra weight represented the additional nourishment needed to produce her own weight in eggs - six to nine of them - at a rate of one a day. So that explained why a pair of these Hedge Mumruffins (another old country name) had recently become regular visitors to the fat block on my garden feeder.


I may be lucky enough to find their exquisite nest – a tiny, barrel-shaped (hence the name) construction of moss and lichen, bound with spider silk and lined with up to a thousand feathers. There is no entrance – birds just part the sides as necessary. Many of the feathers are from the female’s breast – this not only lines the nest, but exposes her bare skin (which becomes distended with engorged blood-vessels near the surface) to form a brood patch. This allows direct contact of her skin on the eggs so she can maintain the optimum temperature for the chick to develop.


And, just like Boris is exhorting us to do in the present crisis, the extended family – last year’s young, siblings, uncles and aunts all pull together to help the parents feed and care for their brood. This behaviour is almost unique amongst birds – let’s hope it’s more common amongst us!


Here, in a shrub in my garden last year, are a family of recently fledged Bum Towels (another name) lined up in an orderly queue waiting for the family to feed them.


So as all of us are set to spend more time at home over the coming months, we can at least be sure of entertainment from bumbarrels and the many other birds busily reproducing in our gardens.


And if, safely cossetted behind the double-glazing we yearn for the outdoors and the countryside - why not turn to the poetry of John Clare, known in his time as The Peasant Poet? Here is his poem about the Feather Poke (yes - yet another one!).


                                                  Bumbarrel’s Nest                                                        

The oddling bush, close sheltered hedge new-plashed,

Of which spring’s early liking makes a guest

First with a shade of green though winter-dashed –

There, full as soon, bumbarrels make a nest

Of mosses grey with cobwebs closely tied

And warm and rich as feather-bed within,

With little hole on its contrary side

That pathway peepers may no knowledge win

Of what her little oval nest contains –

Ten eggs and often twelve, with dusts of red

Soft frittered – and full soon the little lanes

Screen the young crowd and hear the twitt’ring song

Of the old birds who call them to be fed

While down the hedge they hang and hide along.


John Clare





Posted on 26th February, 2020

Looking at my sodden garden after the weekend of Storm Dennis, with overturned plant pots and a lawn strewn with dead wood and branches ripped from trees and shrubs, it’s hard to imagine that in just a few weeks nature will re-assert itself. But the signs are already there: a mistle thrush (known as the storm-cock in days gone by) is already singing into the wind at the top of a tree, a male blackbird is shoo-ing two other males away from his intended mate, and clumps of daffodils look pleasantly out of place in the untended grass.


It’s said that the total area of UK gardens is greater than the combined areas of all our nature reserves. Just think of West Farleigh – our gardens will more than equal the area of the Quarry Wood KWT reserve. Their potential, therefore, for making a difference to our fast-declining wildlife is huge. Whether they are ‘wild’ or aspire to ‘Best Kept Garden’ status our gardens’ capacity for helping wildlife is enormous, and no garden is too small. If we want nature’s big showy things we need its little things too: bugs - the small things that run the world!


Fortunately, bugs - insects, spiders, worms etc., everything from bacteria to bees in fact  - aren’t as fussy as us and are just as happy to set up home in a tidy garden as they are in an untidy one - if we let them. So there’s no reason why keen Farleigh gardeners can’t also play a part in helping boost nature with additional food and accommodation for these vital creatures.


No gardener will object to additional butterflies coming to nectar-rich flowers, be they native plants or exotic blooms from the garden centre. The inclusion of just a few modest native specimens, like ivy for example, will also feed a range of small creatures, often when the more ‘showy’ plants have finished.


Ivy bees (above) fertilize ivy flowers (and lots of others too).

Ivy berries last through the winter and feed lots of birds when food is short.



And small creatures will attract larger ones – hedgehogs, birds, bats and even jewel-like dragonflies if there is water nearby.


Kent Wildlife Trust offers practical help to people who want more wildlife in their garden (for garden, read: everything from small patio to a couple of acres) through their Wild About Gardens Scheme. They will visit and offer suggestions on the small things you can do to help widen your garden’s appeal to wildlife. And it’s free! Just contact


Maureen.Rainey@kentwildlife.org.uk  01622 357829

and ask, or visit their website:





Having a garden alive with wildlife – be it birds, bees, bacteria or boletus mushrooms (they’ll grow on your lawn if you mow round them) - will help ‘West Farleigh In Bloom’ too. Plants and animals soon spill over fences and boundaries onto verges, and as there are plans to create ‘wildlife verges’ around the village it will work the other way too.

The bad news isn’t all bad ...

Posted on 29th January, 2020

What’s happening to our birds? Media headlines are becoming increasingly fraught with reports of dwindling biodiversity (it is), and the UK being the most nature-depleted country in Europe (it appears to be if you dig deeper into the often monotonous, but green, farmland that covers much of our countryside) and when hearing a once-common bird like cuckoo or skylark is something to comment on.

But although their numbers are tumbling in much of the countryside, they seem to be doing well in our gardens. Figures just released to mark twenty-five years of the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden Birdwatch scheme (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/gbw) suggest that gardens are a much-needed haven for some hard-pressed familiar species. In the south east, for example, finches, tits, house sparrows and starlings are the birds most likely to be seen at our feeders.


Two of these though, starlings and house sparrows, have suffered significant declines. House sparrow numbers halved in the south east between 1995 and 2007, but are hanging on in our gardens and are just starting to increase again. Starlings, though, have declined by sixty percent and their numbers are still dropping, even though they seem ever-present in our gardens.


Both these species are regular visitors to my East Farleigh garden and, for almost ten years I have been ringing first house sparrows, and then for the last two years, starlings for research into their declines being carried out by the BTO. This showed that the life expectancy for an adult house sparrow was slightly less in the south-east than elsewhere in the country; roughly forty-three percent of adults die in each year – to be replaced by a roughly equal number of young birds who survive their first winter. So the species is just about hanging on.


From May to July last summer I trapped and ringed three hundred and twenty starlings in my garden as part of this research, so we still appear to have a reasonable population. While they are still visiting our gardens in good numbers there is still hope. Unfortunately, their numbers are nowhere near enough for many of the spectacular winter murmurations like the ones we used to see when I was (a lot) younger. Just a few days ago I saw what I estimated to be a flock of three hundred starlings swirling about like stirred coffee, occasionally turning a mustard yellow when caught in the setting sun. Although it was a beautiful sight, it was tinged with sadness in the knowledge that it hardly compared with what we used to enjoy.



















Our changing climate is having an effect too - and, again, it is not all bad new as far as gardens are concerned. Some birds are actually spreading across more of the country, partly as a result of having gardens with bird feeders to help them move through built-up areas. This link will provide more information  https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/biodiversity/posts/how-does-climate-change-affect-garden-birds


And here is a bird that is benefitting from a warming climate. It's a little egret (photo courtesy of Darren Nicholls). Formerly a mediterranean and tropical bird it is slowly spreading north - this one was photographed in Marden recently. Not exactly a garden bird, but good to see on our lakes and rivers. I recently saw one in Tovil, perched on a Tesco trolley someone had thrown into the Loose Stream.














So the message is - birds need our (preferably not too tidy) gardens and the food we put out for them. So why not become a regular garden bird feeder? If you want to make your garden feeding even more useful, sign up for the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch and double the pleasure too.



In the bleak midwinter – or somewhere sunnier?

Posted on 19th December, 2019

As we approach Christmas and the shortest days of the year, snuggled down in front of warm fire, it is easy to think that nature is hunkered down too. Hibernating species like hedgehogs, and all cold-blooded animals like frogs and insects, are. But now the nights are long, birds have the challenge of finding enough food to lay down sufficient fat to see them through until morning. Tiny birds like wrens, for example, can burn up half their bodyweight just staying alive while they sleep. Meanwhile, flocks of loudly ‘chack-chacking’ fieldfares, winter visitors from Scandinavia gorging on rotten orchard apples, remind us that many millions of birds just deal with the winter by migrating somewhere warmer. Or, in the case of those that come here, to somewhere less cold!


Partridges in pear trees notwithstanding, our imaginations might just wander to think about our summer birds – blackcaps, cuckoos and East Farleigh church’s very own swift. If not hibernating or hunkering, where are they? Actually, swifts can hibernate after a fashion – but that’s for another Lifeline. 


'Our' East Farleigh Church swfit - here's hoping s/he's safe and warm.


The blackcap, with its loud, robin-like song, is an interesting example of the effect of our warming climate. For eons, birds that have spent summer in northern Europe have simply flown south to Spain and northern Africa to spend winter in Mediterranean comfort. Now, some blackcaps that spend summer in Germany migrate instead to the UK, where our winters are becoming milder. If they survive our winter (many have learnt to use our plentiful garden feeders) they then have a shorter flight back to their breeding grounds than other blackcaps that made the journey to the Mediterranean. This means they can nab the best territories and raise more young – which are then genetically programmed to spend winter in a UK heated by a warming Atlantic Ocean. Evolution in action.


We know from satellite tracking that our cuckoos migrate down to sub-Saharan Africa, where they arrive in November, often in exactly the same area they went to in previous winters. From Equatorial Guinea or Gabon they move just south of the equator to spend Christmas in the tropical Congo Forest, before starting their long migration north again around February. So just four months of their year are spent here, around The Farleighs – yet we think of them as typically British birds: our birds, in fact. Recent studies, though, have shown the UK to be the most nature-depleted country in Europe. I wonder how long it will take our continuing onslaught on the countryside in general, and insects in particular, before cuckoos no longer grace our shores.


And what of the swift – just thirty-five grams of feathered life that graced our church twice  this summer? Again, modern technology has helped us discover that they too spend their winters aloft circling tropical Africa, and flying in a wide arc over the adjacent Atlantic. We know now that it’s not just ‘our’ swifts either that do this; studies on Chinese swifts fitted with tiny tracking devices in Beijing show them wintering in the same area as ours. Same species, different populations from opposite sides of the world, happily sharing that most basic resource, food. Is there a lesson here for us?

What would He have done about the birds?

Posted on 2nd November, 2019

In the wake of the recently published State of Nature 2019 report – a summary of how wildlife is faring on our island, and one that shows a continuing decline – I decided to look at my own records for my garden birdwatching. Although I’ve lived in The Farleighs thirty-seven years it was only on retirement that I found the time to keep regular records, so I compared totals from the last three months in 2019 with the same months in 2012.


To my surprise, the numbers of species recorded were identical: thirty. But closer  examination revealed small changes, and reflected those in the national report. I no longer see spotted flycatchers making their circular, loop-the-loop forays to catch insects from my garden trees; being long-distance migrants their numbers have dropped catastrophically as a result of a warming climate (they can’t evolve fast enough to cope with the changing weather patterns) and lack of insects (overuse of chemical insecticides is largely to blame). Sadly, there is a strong likelihood of their imminent extinction in the UK.


On the other hand, there has been an increase in predators recorded: kestrels, for example, normally associated with open fields and motorway verges, and the woodland specialist sparrowhawk, while still declining nationally are coming to my garden more frequently. But is this because gardens support more birds for the predators to hunt than the countryside? For some species, such as goldfinch, there is clear evidence that garden feeding has helped their population increase and I rarely record fewer than four individuals at a time on my feeder.


But, overall, the consensus is that we are now rapidly changing our climate and destroying the natural environment on which humans depend. We aren’t destroying the planet of course, it will continue spinning through space whatever happens – it’s just that we won’t be on it!


Had He been alive today, would Jesus have joined the group of The Farleighs villagers at the Extinction Rebellion protests? It seems He wasn’t one to shy away from controversial action where moneylenders and tax collectors were concerned, so would He also be rebelling against the destruction of His creation by inconveniencing their modern day equivalents in Westminster and The City. Answers on a postcard please .......



Some Farleigh residents visited the recent Art in the Garden event at Marden. You will be pleased to know the event raised over £1K for local wildlife - £800 of which was presented to the RSPB. KM report below:



Wildlife conservation in Kent received a boost from the work of local artists at a recent two-day ‘Art in the Garden’ exhibition. Painters and sculptors were among twenty-five artists who gathered to show their work in the delightful grounds of the medieval Mill Farm House, home of Marden designer and photographer Claire Dominic.

With much to catch their eye, visitors enjoyed browsing the art and stalls of local produce. Live music from local bands provided the perfect background to relax with homemade cake and tea, or locally produced beers, cider and gin.

The natural world was represented by The Big Cat Sanctuary and Operation Turtle Dove. Both  provided insights into their groundbreaking work in Kent and shared the entrance proceeds from the two days.


As a new village resident Claire Dominic said she was “impressed by the wealth of wildlife in the area” as she  presented Nicole Khan, the RSPB’s Turtle Dove Officer for Kent, with a cheque for £800 to support the work of Operation Turtle Dove. Farmland in Marden is one of the few places in south-east England where the iconic Turtle Dove can still be found and local landowners are working closely with the RSPB to give this bird the lifeline it needs to avoid becoming extinct in the UK. Nicole praised local farmers’ enthusiasm and confirmed that it has been a very productive year for Turtle Doves in Marden and the surrounding countryside. She said “The money will be used to provide the supplementary food needed to help the birds through their next breeding season as farmers continue their splendid efforts to help this beautiful dove.”


However, the traditional ‘second day of Christmas’ gift to a loved one will be driven towards  extinction in Kent if plans being considered by Maidstone Borough Council to build two thousand houses in Marden are allowed to progress. Ray Morris, one of a group of ecologists working with local landowners, pointed out that the proposed site supports significant numbers of nationally declining scarce farmland birds. “Whatever developers claim” he said “they cannot mitigate the destruction of farmland on which birds like turtle doves and yellowhammers depend.”



Ivy? (If you have the good fortune to be young enough and have no idea what this is about, just Google the title!).


No they don’t, actually. Ivy leaves are mildly poisonous and can give little lambs (and us) a nasty stomach upset if eaten; skin contact can cause a rash in some people too. Ivy flowers on the other hand, although just a plain inconspicuous green, are a boon to wildlife as they don’t appear until autumn, providing much needed nectar for bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. Their berries last through the winter and are a godsend to wild birds as the supply of other fruits and berries dries up. Throughout the spring and summer the entangled, twisting foliage is ideal for concealing birds’ nests while hosting the myriad insects that provide food for the summer explosion of animal life.


Granted, ivy can present problems for trees, particularly when it produces a ‘sail’ effect on a tall tree so that it is more prone to wind damage. But its value to other wildlife is so great, a balance needs to be struck when ‘protecting’ a tree – particularly a non-native tree whose leaves, flowers or fruits feed few native insects or birds. But if you have an already dead tree in the garden, it’s an ideal support for ivy to scramble over as the stump slowly rots, producing yet more insects.








Ivy even has its own bee species dependent on it – the not-surprisingly named Ivy Bee. This new arrival in the UK (from Europe in 2001 and now spreading quickly north and west into Wales) appears to be perfectly benign, posing no threat to native species. It is a solitary bee, so has no need to sting to protect a store of honey, but can be easily confused with the slightly bigger honey bee. Females lay eggs in burrows in the ground.




Although solitary, there are often lots of individual nests close together. The males have a habit of waiting for a female to emerge from her burrow, whereupon large numbers of them attempt to mate with her, forming a ‘bee ball’.


So this boring plant, despised by many, is actually a key feature for a biodiverse garden.


Long may it scramble.