Reviving the wormery

My August Wild Garden challenge was to revive the wormery. Worms are excellent recyclers, turning dead plant material into wonderful compost and liquid fertiliser.  I set up a three-tiered wormery in my garden years ago, for fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen. But it fell into neglect after the council started a food waste collection, as it was easier to put all the food waste in one place, rather than separating out acidic and fishy/meaty waste from the worm-tasty other stuff.

The wormery
The wormery

Having had to buy lots of compost this year, it’s struck me that it just doesn’t make sense for me to send away good worm food for the council to compost, and then pay for and transport commercial compost. It was time to get the wormery going again.

I was trepidatious about what I would find when I lifted the lid from the long-neglected wormery. But what I found was a pleasant surprise. The bottom layer had beautiful, fine textured, non-smelly compost ready to go on the garden.

The compost from the wormery
The compost from the wormery

My first task was to get the few remaining worms in that layer out of that compost, and into the less digested layer. I did that by leaving the lid off for a while, then, once the worms had dug down a bit to escape the light, scooping of the top bit of compost, and repeating the process until the tray was empty, the worms rehomed, and the herbs and flowers given a compost treat.

As there were few worms left, to really get the wormery producing quickly I decided to add some reinforcements. There are various companies online that will send you worms via an unsuspecting delivery driver. I bought mine along with a block of coir as bedding, some worm treats and some lime pellets, to keep the compost at a worm-friendly neutral or slightly alkaline ph.

The worms in their new home
The worms in their new home

Once the coir block had been soaked, I added it and the worms to an empty wormery tray, together with some worm treats. I will add food waste gradually, until they get into their swing.

For the tray of almost ready compost, which has the remainder of the original worms (well, their descendents), I added some lime pellets and worm treats. Once they’ve finished work in that layer they can join the newbies in the tray above.

Hopefully this time I can keep the wormery going well. This will reduce the carbon cost of transporting some of my food waste to the council composting facility, and reduce my compost and fertiliser bill. I will give it my best shot.

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Dormouse box check, August 16

As we assembled for this month’s box check I was in two minds about whether to go ahead with it. It was raining, which isn’t ideal, as you don’t want any disturbed dormice getting soggy (their fur isn’t waterproof). And it was quite windy in the car park on top of the ridge of the North Downs. The forecast said it should just be a shower. But the wind was due to double by lunchtime. It’s just not sensible to be in the woods on a windy day.

But the volunteers had travelled to get there (giving up a precious Saturday lie-in). And I would struggle to find time for the check another day this month.

In the end I decided to see what it was like at the site (a 15 minute walk away from the car park, and a bit more sheltered), trusting that the forecast would be right about the shower, and that we’d finish the check before the wind picked up.

Once in the wood, the wind became less noticeable. The leaves were rustling, but the branches were still. So at least it was safe for the volunteers.

We started, as always, with nine boxes we put up last year across the path from the rest. It was where we had found a dormouse last month, so a promising place to start. The dormouse had moved on from last month’s nest. But, a few boxes later, we hit gold.

A lively dormouse jumped out of the box. Once we had bagged it up, it was clear that he was a male in breeding condition. It’s usually quite hard to determine the sex of a dormouse, but that wasn’t a problem with this fellow. While he was safe and dry in a weighing bag I explored the nest for any other occupants, and found a beautiful pregnant female. This was fantastic news – it’s great to see breeding happening on that side of the path. Both dormice safely returned to their nest, we carried on.

Last month we had a couple of bees nests in dormouse boxes. We approached them with caution, watching and listening for any signs of bees. They seemed to have left the first nest, and, as we watched, a shrew emerged from the second. I’m guessing that one no longer has bees in. But we’ll wait til next month to clean it out, to be on the safe side (the bees seem to enjoy lulling you into a false sense of security at my site).

As the check progressed the rain eased up, although by that time most of us had soggy feet.

Dr C checked the last box. Last month it had an empty bluetit nest in it. If it was still disused this month, we’d clean it out, like we had with the other manky bluetit nests. As he slid the lid across, we saw it had been transformed in the last month. No longer a shallow open nest, the box was full of moss (like a wren’s nest), with leaves and honeysuckle bark as well. Although not a classic dormouse nest, we were both suspecting dormice, when a golden face appeared against the perspex.

Dan, a volunteer who is working towards his license, had the job of bagging the dormouse, who turned out to be a lactating mother. In the nest cavity we could feel some young, but, given the less than ideal weather, and their vulnerability, we decided to leave them in the warmth and safety of the nest, and return mum to them as quickly as possible.

Dormouse
Mummy dormouse

It was a wonderful end to the check, and I am very excited to see how they are all getting on next month.

Elegy for Machli

Yesterday I learnt that the oldest, and most famous wild tiger in the world, has died. It was a sad day for tiger lovers everywhere.

Bengal tiger

Machli is said to be the most photographed tiger in the world, and several excellent documentaries have been made about her. She lived in Ranthambore National Park, in Rajasthan, India.

Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to see her, and her then almost adult cubs, in the flesh. Unperturbed by the tourist jeeps, she was the living embodiment of strength and grace. When she walked you could sense her power – power that helped her feed many cubs over the years, and even kill a 14ft long crocodile.

A few years after my visit to Ranthambore, there were a couple of tiger photos by different people in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Both were of Machli. And you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful subject.

I saw somewhere that half the tigers in Ranthambore, and another tiger reserve in Rajasthan, as descended from Machli. With the world’s tiger population still precarious, we should be celebrate her success at raising so many cubs, and for living for 19 years – the oldest recorded wild tiger (10-15 years being more usual).

Bengal tiger
One of Machli’s cubs, taken in 2006

Her public profile (she has a facebook page as well as a starring role in documentaries and photographs) has also helped raise awareness of tigers, and has brought in significant amounts of money (through tourism) to Rajasthan. Tiger tourism income is vital for making sure wild tigers are protected.

While lions are meant to be the king of beasts, having seen both in the wild, I think tigers edge it, and Machli was the queen of tigers. Let’s hope she’s endowed her offspring with the same qualities that allowed her to survive and breed so successfully.

For the love of… How do I persuade my MP we need to do more to tackle climate change? 

I need your advice: how do I persuade my MP (a Tory with a huge majority) to push the government to ratify the Paris climate change agreement?

The background

In October this year, the Climate Coalition are holding a week of action. They’re encouraging people around the country to invite their MPs to events which demonstrate how much people care about climate change. They want people to share how the things they love will be affected by climate change. The ultimate aim is to encourage MPs to support ratification of the Paris climate change agreement.

I feel like this is something I have to do, but I don’t know how.

My MP

My MP is a Conservative with a huge majority. According to TheyWorkForYou.com, he generally votes against measures to reduce climate change. At a hustings I attended last year he said he thinks the UK is doing enough to combat climate change. My encounters with him so far have not been productive; he doesn’t share my views and has no need to win my vote. He’s not interested in the scientific evidence on a subject, if it goes against his own views (most of us are guilty of that failing, but I would like to believe government policy is informed by evidence).

Planning the event

I think it’s important that it focuses on the emotional side as my MP isn’t likely to change his mind based on science. This is challenging to me, as my day job is all about trying to get scientific evidence into policy. But the focus of the week of action, ‘For the love of’ should help keep me away from the dry facts.

I have a few ideas of what the event could be:

  • A walk in some of the beautiful countryside where we live (maybe risky in October?)
  • An exhibition of art on the ‘For the love of’ theme (I’ve no idea how to organise an exhibition, but I like the idea)
  • A talk from a local expert on the wildlife in our constituency
  • Some kind of combination of the above

My vicar has agreed to it being a church event, so I have access to a venue, and there are lots of talented artists I could involve if we went for the second option. I could try to make contact  with some other local groups who may be interested in climate change.

Of course, organising an event is one thing, but getting the MP to come along is crucial. What sort of event do you think would be best for showing my MP that his constituents care about climate change?

Photo special: Macrophotography course

It’s easy to overlook small things, and miss the everyday beauty (and weirdness) that surrounds us. Dr C very kindly gave me a macro lens for my birthday, back in April, and since then I’ve been seeing the world differently. It’s been a revelation.

I realised I needed to learn how to use it, so booked myself on a Surrey Wildlife Trust macrophotography course, led by Adrian Davies. The course took place in an old orchard, in the most glorious sunshine. There was plenty of unexpected beauty to be found, once you start looking at it. Here are my best shots from the day.

Globe thistle
Globe thistle
Bee on bramble flower
Bee on bramble flower
Irridescent fly
Irridescent fly
Water drops at the heart of a flower
Water drops at the heart of a flower
Hoverfly on bramble flower
Hoverfly on bramble flower
Cranesbill flowers
Cranesbill flowers
Butterfly
Butterfly
Gatekeeper(?) butterfly on bramble flower
Gatekeeper(?) butterfly on bramble flower

July 2016 Dormouse Box Check

July’s dormouse box check got off to a good start. As I looked into my first box of the day, a lively dormouse appeared.

By the time I had got the box off the tree, into the bag, the dormouse had turned shy, burrowing beneath the nest. The nest itself wasn’t particularly well constructed, so unlikely to survive being lifted out of the box.

An unusually messy, loose dormouse nest
An unusually messy, loose dormouse nest

Often when active dormice are reluctant to come out of their nests at this time of the year, it’s because they have young they want to protect. So I took things slowly and carefully. Once I had established there were no youngsters in the nest, I had another go at getting out the adult, this time successfully.

I finally extracted the dormouse from it's box
I finally extracted the dormouse from it’s box

It’s always a little nerve-wracking, handling your first active dormouse of the year. The last active one I handled was back in October – 9 months ago. Luckily this one was pretty cooperative (and pretty) so didn’t make a run for freedom up my arms.

We weighed and sexed her quickly, then returned her to the box. She was 16g, which is not unusual for the time of year.

The dormouse in a bag, to be weighed
The dormouse in a bag, to be weighed

The rest of the check was less exciting – no other dormice and no new dormouse nests. The bees are still occupying a couple of former dormouse nests. The bluetits have all left their nests, but a couple of wrens were still nesting in the cosiest nests imaginable.

The pleasant morning was completed by a quick lap of a Cherry Fair (it’d be rude not to buy some cherries).

Hopefully next month we’ll have some signs of breeding to boost the local dormouse population.