'Must try harder!'

Our wildlife is in a parlous state and there is work to be done

Fungi in the garden are a sign of healthy soilIt's a confusing time for reading wildlife reports. On the one hand we see the National Trust announce that 2017 has been a 'bumper year for butterflies, birds and bees' while elsewhere we read that 'A great silence is spreading over the natural world' and the WWF tells us that 'Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years'. Which is it?

Car crash

The only way for me to gauge any veracity is to go and look for myself. There are some things I can note. Remember when the car windscreen would be covered in splattered insects after a long car journey? That doesn't happen any more. Cars may be more aerodynamic today, but it was the insects on registration plates that told the real story. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) carried out a survey in 2004 (when will they carry out another one?), called the 'splatometer test', where they sent out grids for volunteers to stick on registration plates and then send in for the squashed insects to be counted.

The results showed an average of just one squashed insect for every five miles driven. This would have been unheard of 30 years ago. Meanwhile, in Germany, monitoring of protected areas reveals that in 30 years insect species have declined by some 75%.

Toads in the garden are also a good signI've watched wildlife for as long as I can remember, probably since that early Sunday morning in around 1967 when I sprayed a daddy long-legs with copper paint and was horrified when it died, but it's only in the last 15 years or so that I've become more observant. Insects of all types are noticeably fewer than they were. That inevitably impacts on species that rely on them for food, such as birds.

Then there's the knock-on effect on species that predate birds - foxes, stoats, weasels and birds of prey to name a few. Add to this the seemingly unstoppable spread of humanity, the building of new housing estates, paving over of front gardens and you can only come to the conclusion that if we don't change direction, we'll end up where we're headed and it won't be pretty.

The thought is hideous, and the moral stain of doing nothing is unbearable.

Positive steps

What am I going to do? Thinking back to old school reports, the phrase 'Must try harder!' was written many times and it comes to mind now. Nature is in a dire state and may or may not recover, but I must do whatever I can to help it thrive in the small pockets of land I help to tend.

That means planting more food plants for insects, birds and small mammals, letting perennial plants stand over winter to provide shelter and seeds, creating more habitats out of prunings and logs, mulching the soil to boost micro-organisms and fertility, providing sources of food and fresh water.

I'll keep talking to birds and mammals when I see them and share lunch with them when I can. One garden at a time, I will do my damnedest to make a difference and draw on every shred of stubbornness to make it better. As my father said to me once, 'You've always been pig-headed' and now I'm glad of it because it's going into top gear. Join me if you will, let's take a ride.

“Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying” 

Roy T Bennett

Please note, the contents of the blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.