Monday, July 02, 2007

Call of the wild


I'M sure that my neighbours understand. When they see the curtains twitching and the binoculars poking out, they realise that I'm monitoring garden wildlife. Either that or they think they're living across the road from a stalker. But the blame lies firmly at Bill Oddie's door. Seduced by the BBC's Springwatch, I have spent the past couple of months exhibiting classic twitcher behaviour.

First, let me confess that I have been a reluctant convert. Overseas travel (that thing we did in the old days, before scientists told us that air miles are nothing to be proud of) has spoiled me - I've seen rhinos in the wild in India, and on a hike in the Canadian Rockies I'm pretty sure there was a bear somewhere in the vicinity. "That doesn't look like deer droppings," I said, pointing to a dark, smouldering heap on the forest floor. "No," said the other half. "It looks... meaty." Between these adventures and the glorious technicolour of David Attenborough documentaries, I confess that I've always considered local wildlife to be a bit, well, boring.

Determined to turn over a new leaf, I joined the national search for the Springwatch six. No, not a criminal gang, but half a dozen species chosen for a national survey. This year Springwatch received 24,453 'first sightings' of the creatures in question, so I'm not alone out there. Only a measly 5% of reports came from Scotland, though.

I proudly recorded and sent in my sightings of the swift, seven-spot ladybird, peacock butterfly and hawthorn flowers - although the red-tailed bumblebee and frogspawn remain unaccounted for. The results of the survey have now been compiled by the Woodland Trust, and you can probably guess what they show. The warm spring has brought about the early arrival of some of our wildlife - peacock butterflies, for example, were spotted one month earlier than usual.

Scientists have refrained from drawing sweeping conclusions about the results. "We are concerned because the change seems to be so rapid," says Nick Collinson at the Woodland Trust. "And we know there is a mismatch of timing - flowers are coming out earlier than the insects that pollinate them are available."

Our changing world is seriously upsetting our wildlife. This was confirmed in the Scottish Environment Protection Agency's 2006 'State of Scotland's Environment' report, which found that the country's biodiversity is "under increasing threat from habitat loss, land-use changes, urbanisation and the spread of non-native species, as well as climate change".

So what can we do to help? There's the big picture - reducing our carbon footprint - but there's also scope for more direct action. If you don't have a garden, you can still have a window-box - fill it with flowers, and the bees and butterflies will thank you. According to the Scottish Wildlife Trust (, 90,000 species in Scotland require habitats. Although it's not possible to cater for all of these in our gardens, we can create vital wildlife corridors. Tips include planting native species, avoiding chemicals and, my favourite, not being too tidy. And you could join the SWT and visit its nature reserves. In 2006, wildlife tourism was estimated to generate £210 million for the Scottish economy, so there are financial reasons to respect our wildlife as well as green ones.

Meanwhile I'm fast becoming a wildlife bore. Ask me what's happening on Big Brother and I won't have the foggiest. But I'd be happy to tell you all about the nesting habits of the local blackbirds. That Bill Oddie has a lot to answer for.



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