If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you will have seen our upcycling articles coming out every Tuesday for the last 2 months. These are basically creative ways to use single use plastics and make them in to useful projects and household items. These are fun for kids and I strongy urge everyone to take part in these weekly projects if possible- I would love to see some photos.
Anyway, there has been an underlying theme to many of them, which I have been asked about by a few people. Most of these articles have been based around wildlife based projects, with the most recent on being an upcycled plastic bottle butterfly feeder.
Both my husband and myself not only have a love of wildlife but we are almost bordering on obsessed with our native wildlife. We live near a large wooded area, which includes Hutchingsons Bank, Frylands Woos and Selsdon Nature Reserve and we LOVE walking our dog Max in the surrounding woods and meadows. Just this week, we have seen rabbits, a male roe deer, pheasants, a kestrel and many smaller birds. Our back garden is a haven for wildlife, with a small pond, a newly planted hawthorn hedge, trees, bird feeders, bird nesting boxes, a bat box and a bug hotel (told you we were obsessed!) We have a family of badgers who come in under our garden gate as well as foxes, to drink from our pond and to scavenge for bit of veg we may have left out.
Our back garden comes to life in the spring and summer, as our crocus, daffodil and bluebell bulbs come through, along with a tonne of other bulbs which I can’t identify yet (they were given as a present last Christmas as part of a pollinator set). Of course, we are trying our best to feed our native pollinators too; the photos in this article were taken by myself last summer as our patio and garden became a buzz with bees, butterflies and multiple other insect species. I must confess, I have a serious soft spot for butterflies. They always capture my attention as they flitter by and I am elated when I see them. Similarly, when I see bees buzzing on a flower I have planted, I smile- it is really a good feeling.
Expand outwards away from our back garden however and it is a different story altogether in our surrounding neighbourhood. Lawns are cut back, as are verges and all wildflowers are mowed down routinely by our local council. I understand this, it is their responsibility to keep these areas maintained and heck, that’s what we pay our council tax for. It is somewhat confusing however, as these areas are maintained to keep the area looking respectable but then become covered in litter.
Our local wildflower hotspot is Hutchingsons bank, a beautiful, picturesque chalk grassland area which grows a wide variety of flowers difficult to grow in other areas. So, during the last 2 years in the summer, our back garden and Hutchingsons bank were where I headed to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. In 2017, there was a large variety of butterflies in both our back garden and Hutchingsons bank. I was ecstatic, at one point everywhere I looked was alive with these beautiful, colourful insects feeding on flowers. I scribbled down every single one I saw and reported my sightings each day on the website. The results came out and though some species had declined since 2016, many had increased, including the famous Red Admiral and the Peacock. Many species were at a similar level to 2016 but there were concerns over certain species decline but I was very new to the Butterfly Conservation at that point and did not really understand what this meant to the overall health of the environment.
Fast forward to 2018, the first day of the count and I was off again, with my sun hat, my iPhone this time (with the Big Butterfly Count App) and a bottle of water to start my recordings. I sat in the same spot where I had seen the multiple species the year before and waited. And waited. And waited. There is a 15 minute time limit to make these recordings, so I was a bit worried on the first day that 9 minutes in, I had only seen 1 butterfly. No big deal, I thought, maybe I was too early or it isn’t warm enough. The next day yielded little more than a few common blue butterflies and a brimstone. Hmmmm. Back in our garden, it was much the same, lots of flowers but few butterflies. As the weeks went on, I did note that there were many large white butterflies in our back garden, a comma, a few common blues and a peacock. When the count finished, I was worried. In the previous count, I had seen many gatekeeper’s at Hutchingsons bank, many six spot burnet moths and marble whites. In 2018, I saw a handful at best.
When the 2018 results were posted, my heart sank; I was not the only one who hadn’t had a successful count. Across the country, the overall numbers of the small tortoiseshell, the gatekeeper, the marbled white and the six spot burnet moth had PLUMMETED, in spite of the warm weather and the number of count participants increasing. Why had this happened?
There were a number of theories, all of them grim. One was that due to the changing weather patterns, such as earlier, hotter summer, the butterflies were emerging earlier, living their lives and dying before the count began. Another theory suggested that increase in farm lands and decrease in butterfly friendly environments had led to the overall decline. In relation to the small tortoiseshell, a once common butterfly, there was an even more worrying revelation. The increase in overall temperature had led to a parasitic fly (Sturmia bella) becoming more prevalent in the UK. Both this fly and the small tortoiseshell lay their eggs on the common nettle and unfortunately, when the tortoiseshell caterpillars emerge, they ingest the eggs of this fly. Like a scene from a horror film, these eggs hatch and devour the host from within. Sadly, this fly is suggested to be one of many that is doing this to this particular butterfly species.
With this new information, I panicked. I stayed awake late in to the night, wondering what could be done. Planting some flowers in the back garden was helping on a small scale but as I thought of the unused, trash filled green space in our area, it became apparent that one way to help would be to expand pollinator environments in these unused areas. I wrote an email to our local MP Sarah Jones, stating my concerns and asking her if it would be possible to increase butterfly and bee friendly sites in the borough of Croydon, by planting more wildflowers. Understanding my worry, she was very supportive and wrote to the council on my behalf. That was last year in November and to this day, I have heard nothing back from her. Very discouraging.
Life carries on and with every passing day, my frustrations and worry grew. On a sunny, clear day in early January this year, I went in to our back garden to top up our bird feeders when I noticed a new plant poking its head through the soil- it was one of my pollinating bulbs. It is always great when a garden starts to wake up (even when it is that early) and it inspired me to push harder to get more pollinator friendly locations. I was and still am determined.
Another set of emails sent off, this time to Croydon Council themselves, trying to get something set up. They told me to contact the manager of grounds, essentially their maintenance crew, to discuss this idea. A day later, I received this reply –
Croydon in total has over 120 parks and open spaces and has quite a few havens for flora and fauna in the borough. This includes ornamental parks, open grassed areas and woods. We have given over nearly 2 million sq. metres of open grass land to conservation areas throughout the borough.
Croydon has 30 small woods in the borough along with many larger woods, such as Selsdon Woods, Littleheath Woods, Croham Hurst Woods, Happy Valley etc. all providing a rich mixture of plant life for bees, butterflies etc.
In Coombe Wood there is a small area where a local bee keepers association have their own hives.
We are not able to allow highway verges or grassed areas in Housing sites to remain uncut. Councillors and residents expect these grassed areas to be cut regularly and maintained.
Green Spaces Monitor
Development & Environment Department
Public Realm Division
Public Realm Office Building
Stubbs Mead Depot
Upon reading it for the third time, I sat back and was amazed at how calm I was. I replayed it in my mind multiple times before deciding not to write back; it seemed pointless. The real worry was that the same day I received this reply, a study conducted by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that human activity needs to be curbed in order to save the thousands of species of pollinators at risk; this warning made it in to newspapers and even on to the BBC news- talk about being in denial. I was more worried about how out of touch this head of grounds was with an issue that directly impacted on us all.
I thought about the line ‘Councillors and residents expect these grassed areas to be cut regularly and maintained.’ Councillors eh? Just so happens that my hubby and myself actually know one of our local councillors on first name terms and have met some of the others. You guessed it, another round of emails! This time, to these councillors who I was sure would be willing to discuss this in person. The councillor I had in mind to get the rest of them on our side was a young fellow called Oliver Lewis, a Labour councillor who was never too busy to chat to us common people. Within a day of the email, a meeting was arranged.
After the meeting, I was left feeling confident and pleased with the result. We had spoken about waning pollinator numbers, discussed areas that could be turned in to wildflower areas in the local borough and even spoke about the larger impact of this project, many countries who have planted a large area of wildflowers have seen pollinator numbers rise. He asked me to write a proposal for a large upcoming meeting in early April, outlining the project, why we need to do it and how we will go about implementing it;
Pollinator Project Proposal
A study published in the journal of Biological Conservation in 2019, highlighted that at the current rate of decline, insects could completely vanish in the next 100 years. That includes pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
Pollinators are needed for crop production across farmlands. The Big Butterfly Count in 2018 highlighted a sharp decline in species such as the Comma (- 40% from 2017), the Gatekeeper (-54%) and the Meadow Brown (-56%), despite the summer of 2018 being consistently warm and a record number of people participating in the count.
The main cause of decline in numbers of butterflies and bees is habitat loss. A study by the UN has found a drop in global biodiversity poses a threat to quality and quantity of food supplies. This is an emergency and we, as a species need to act on it.
The idea is to simply increase the amount of pollinating plants in the Croydon area to increase habitats for pollinators. There are many small areas of greenspace in Croydon that are unused and could make an ideal habitat for pollinating plants- for example, the buns running alongside Featherbed Lane and along Kent Gate Way. As these areas are rarely maintained, they would be ideal habitats as they are a natural barrier between areas that will be maintained by mowers.
Many pollinating plants are wildflowers; they are naturally hardy and will require very little specialist care. Many pollinators are self seeding and will not need to be replanted every year. Research in to which pollinators to plant for this project will be based on those suggested by the Royal Horticultural Societies, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the Butterfly Conservation, one of which is borage, a star blue flower that is a relative of mint and is renowned for being immensely popular with bees and butterflies such as the Holly Blue.
Spreading the areas of wildflowers will reduce pressure on locations such as Hutchinson’s Bank on Featherbed Lane and will widen the habitat for the pollinators. Based on results from Hull, this will lead to a wider area in which pollinators can lay their eggs and will ensure ample food when the eggs hatch and will increase the overall population if bees and butterflies.
The benefits would include-
• Using space that is unused to promote essential biodiversity
• Cut in costs to maintenance for the council
• Community engagement
• Increase in pollinators
• Visual improvement to barren areas
At present, I am contacting multiple conservation groups around the Croydon Area in order to obtain whether they would be happy to engage in the implementation of this project. However, I would like to extend this project in to the wider community and if this project is permitted, I would promote engagement online through the Just Be Croydon website, promoting the physical and mental benefits of this project. I would also promote engagement on social media.
And now I wait. Wait for the reply, if it will happen and what we will do if it is rejected. If it is rejected, I will not stop. We need to save the pollinators and lip service won’t get that done.